‘Marokkiat’ – the hit online series supporting freedom of speech for Moroccan women

‘Marokkiat' – the hit online series supporting freedom of speech for Moroccan women

Moroccan filmmaker Sonia Terrab (in the hat) filmed 12 women for a series named Marokkiat. The project is supported by Jawjab, an incubator of young online talent, and its director, Fatim Ben Cherki.

(Anthony Bellanger)

“Every time I asked them the same question: ‘What was the experience in your life that made you the woman you are today?’. And out it comes: she tells me she was sexually assaulted at the age of five or six,” recalls filmmaker Sonia Terrab when talking about this particular clip from one of the 12 web videos she filmed for the project Marokkiat (‘Moroccan Women’ in local Arabic dialect) in Casablanca at the end of 2017.

Rape, homosexuality, harassment in the street or at work and persistent chatting up are all discussed. Zahra says love is just a matter of business in Morocco. Nada talks about being assaulted in the street, while Khadija admits having more problems since she started wearing the veil.

According to a United Nations study on the Maghreb, over six million Moroccan women have been subjected to acts of violence.

Breaking taboos, giving a voice to those who can’t speak out – this is how the Marokkiat project has found popular success, going well beyond the neighbourhood of Bourgogne in Casablanca, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.

With over six million views on the internet, Jawjab – the name of the company that produces these short films – has found itself in the limelight. “Jawjab means ‘the one who came and brought something with them,’” explains Fatim Ben Cherki, the director of this talent-nurturing project, a subsidiary of a Moroccan production company. “It is a collaborative space and it is up to the young women to bring their talent here.”

A case in point is Sonia Terrab, a former journalist, novelist and freelance filmmaker for Jawjab: “Sixteen million Moroccans use social networks: 10 million men and six million women. Given those figures, we decided to get women to speak out in the public arena, because in Morocco it is not their place. By speaking in the street for one minute to a camera to talk about something very powerful is a way of taking some of that public space for themselves, using their very personal experience. In the short time it takes to tell their tale, these girls are saying to us: ‘We exist and we don’t care if we annoy you!’”

Ben Cherki adds: “Sonia has done a very successful job with the photography. The thing is that the video on the internet is first ‘consumed’ without sound, with subtitles. The photography is what catches people’s eye straight away. Visibility is very important because we know that Moroccans spend a record amount of time on social networks. Three hours and 15 minutes a day, while the average for Africa is two hours and 10 minutes. It is an extraordinary playground for us.”

The film producer described to Equal Times the launch of the videos: “In November and December we recorded 25 video clips and we selected and broadcast 12 of them. The most powerful. I began with word of mouth, of course. And then I put an ad on Facebook and I got dozens of messages: ‘We want to have our say. We also want to be Marokkiats.’”

“Revolution is about the personal. That’s how you get through to people”

“We gave a little and received a lot,” says the director. “These conditions created the fertile ground that produced surprising results. We thought that women here in Morocco were closed in on themselves, that there was a slight sense of shame and a huge amount of submission. But not at all! They just needed to be given the space to express themselves. Revolution is about personal things. That is how you get through to people.”

One of the interviewees said that as a Moroccan woman her situation was impossible to change. The fact of speaking out on the internet to millions of people changed everything. “They did not realise how brave they were to start with. The hardest thing, in Morocco, is not to free yourself from society, but from your family,” continues Ben Cherki.

“I remember going with a young girl to court. She had been married for one week! Finally, her husband said to her: ‘Ok, you can go, you wear too much make-up!’ In Morocco there is an epidemic of early divorces at the moment, just two or three months after the wedding.”

Terrab continues: “Moroccan society is very complex, very conservative, full of contradictions. Here appearances are more important than the truth. What we see is a sort of blanking out of individuality in society. But breaking away is about what you do in daily life. Now we want to go further into the subject and make a film. What does it involve, going out alone in the evening, having a glass of something, smoking in the street? These are real questions,” she says.

While the videos were eventually well-received by Moroccan society and by politicians, the two young women want nonetheless to keep their freedom of speech and their independence. Furthermore, they see red if anyone tries to pigeonhole them in the category ‘women’s cinema’. “When we work, we do not define ourselves as women. We have our lives and we don’t have to answer to anyone. That is why we have been able to go as far as we have. Jawjab is there for creativity, for debate.”

“An artist’s job is to ask the questions, not to answer them”

They also insist they do not have a political message to deliver. “The government has fully understood that they have to let these people express themselves. Our work is above all creative. There are three million young Moroccans who are off the radar, who have dropped out of school, who don’t have a job, and they have to be found and looked after. The internet can help us with this. Jawjab will continue its artistic work,” confirms the director.

“There is something extraordinary in Morocco: young people who speak without hatred, spontaneously. An artist’s job is to ask the questions, not to answer them. The fact that we are being talked about in the media, notably in Europe, means that we are being taken seriously. What young people need is the means to express themselves; and we need to understand their view of the world and their desires.”

And next? Of course they have more than enough material to launch Season Two of Marokkiat. “Maybe,” says Terrab. “We need to take our time and not fall into the trap of doing whatever is easiest.”

This article has been translated from French.

You can see all the videos on Facebook or with French surtitles on YouTube.