Susan Youssef, Director of Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf

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By writer John Burns

Susan Youssef is, in her own words, an ‘ordinary looking Arab lady in her 30s.’ She lives in Amsterdam with her husband and describes her relatively normal days: in the morning, she’ll do a little light meditation. Come afternoon, she’ll likely go for a jog in the nearby park and by evening time, she’ll cook dinner. ‘Have you ever read “Our Town”?’ she asks, likening herself to Emily Webb, the Thornton Wilder character told by her mother that she is but ‘pretty enough for normal purposes.’ Apart from the three basic exercises around which she anchors her day, most would consider Youssef’s intents and purposes far from normal: all other hours are spent making films.

Producer Hira Jafri will also be in attendance.

About the Film

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Marjoun, clad in all black, with dark eyes and dark hair, is 17 years old and an outsider in her home of Little Rock, Arkansas. Her father Aabid is from Lebanon, and in county jail awaiting trial for his alleged connections to Hezbollah. As she deals with the tensions in her high school and the attempts to get her father out of jail, she takes solace in writing poetry on her typewriter and fancying Chaney, the boy in her math class. When hope dims for her father’s release, Marjoun seeks to take to the open road on a motorcycle. Will she escape or be pulled back into her life in Little Rock?

Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf is set in 2006, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Second Intifada, and Iraq War. We experience these shifts in Arab and Muslim American lives through the three women in Marjoun’s household, in a time when young Muslim women are choosing the hijab independently of their familial traditions to find meaning and strength in their own choices. Finally, this film is set also at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi. This Zen Buddhist monastery has been established in the tradition of the friendship of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, bringing together the themes of civil rights movements and interfaith practice.

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