The Idol

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Based on a true story, The Idol is a Palestinian film that tells the inspiring tale of Mohammed Assaf played by the Arab-Israeli actor Tawfeek Barhom. He overcomes the struggles of being a Palestinian living in the squalor of Gaza to become an international popstar after winning the second season of Arab Idol in 2013. The first half of the movie follows Assaf as a child when he forms a small music group with his sister and two close friends. Although pop music is frowned upon in their largely conservative society more concerned with survival, Assaf’s childhood band scrapes together whatever they can to follow their passion of playing music. Assaf perseveres to pursue a better life even in the midst of personal tragedy, poverty, and the threat of war. The movie’s second half fast-forwards to Assaf’s late teens and early twenties when he realizes that the new music competition television show Arab Idol, a recent offshoot of American Idol, may lead to his musical breakthrough. However, he discovers that as a Palestinian it will not be easy to even simply audition like other contestants. The harsh realities of Gaza are powerfully represented by the film juxtaposing bombed-out buildings and other images of decades-long warfare against the modern and glitzy television show. The rise of Assaf who eventually captures the hearts of all Palestinians against all odds is a potent message of inspiration. By following one Palestinian’s journey, the movie humanizes the tragic and complicated circumstances of the Middle East in a politically subtle yet evocative manner. It tells a remarkably uplifting story of how hope and perseverance can prevail over adversity and help fulfill one’s dreams. Overall, the film feels like a Palestinian version of Slumdog Millionaire, with its similar plot of an impoverished young man navigating the obstacles of a largely hostile environment to achieve fame through a television contest.

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