More than 120 students and members of the general public crammed into Erdahl-Cloyd auditorium at North Carolina State University in Raleigh to watch the screening of Scheherazade’s Diary, a documentary about prison, patriarchy, and women in Lebanon. The film narrates the efforts of women prisoners–who are either convicted or awaiting trial–to reclaim their voices from a society and penal system. Not only has the system failed them in many ways, but it also chooses to ignore their plights including incarceration without trial up to a period of 7 years. The filmmaker, Ms. Zeina Daccache, brilliantly captured the humanity of these inmates as they spoke about journeys inflected with abuse, violence and neglect–as well as personal responsibility–that brought them to jail, and more critically to a life without much hope.
Ms. Daccache and her team from the NGO Catharsis, used drama therapy to allow these women tell these stories through the play staged in jail and documentary of that effort. The play helped to break through the societal silence and confront Lebanese–and Arab–societies with the taboo topics of rape, domestic abuse, and other acts of violence against women.
The evocative and provocative film was followed by a very lively session of questions and answers from a mesmerized audience, and a director who is as passionate about her activism as she is about film-making. In the course of these conversations she clarified that these societal ills afflicting women are certainly not universal, but their very presence even if in small numbers (and the statistics are not clear at all) is oppressive to all women.