With so many overblown productions about America and what it means to be an American, it’s hard to wade through the populist, patriotic garbage and find something actually halfway decent. Most of the time, I’m not even interested in sifting through that whole “coming to America” genre because it’s so full of cliches and heartbreak. Most importantly, it’s typically an outside perspective on what it means to be American or at least what they think Americans want to see and hear.
Amreeka gains its strength from its departure from these norms. It’s a movie that’s full of heart and engaging, believable characters. One of the most compelling aspects is that it manages to be unflinching in its portrayal while also maintaining an inexplicable optimism. It begins in Palestine, showing the conditions that Muna and her son, Fadi, are subjected to day in and day out. Yet, like every “coming to America” movie, she longs for a fresh start. She and her son pack up everything and move to live with her sister. What she is greeted with, when she arrives, is not a new start, but prejudice.
Amreeka is never really condemning of America, there is no sense of hope lost, but there is the reality of the situation. America is admittedly not friendly to Middle-eastern immigrants and, despite her constant objections that she is Palestinian, Muna sees the racism that’s been felt by people of Middle-Eastern descent since the attacks on September 11th.
Although the actual events of September 11th are never discussed, the aftermath is felt and the American effort for “liberation” in the Middle East is discussed. Most films are too terrified to discuss the war until it’s unpopularity was pretty much universally agreed upon. However, Amreeka does it with a certain fervor, where it not only becomes objectionable, but something personal to these characters. Alia Shawkat, who most people may know as Maeby from “Arrested Development”, plays Fadi’s cousin in the movie, and the actress herself is of Iraqi heritage, which adds an interesting element to one scene where she argues the war with her classmates.
Still, at its heart, which Amreeka has plenty of, it is in the vein of the “coming to America” genre as well as a coming-of-age story for Muna’s son, Fadi.It’s themes are relevant and beautifully presented as both Muna and Fadi try to find what it means to live in an America that defied their expectations. Amreeka is both heartbreaking and hopeful in it’s examination of what it means to be Middle-Eastern in a post-9/11 America.