A Portrait of Holy Women: Arranged (2007)
Nasira is a young traditional Muslim woman. Rochel is a young Orthodox Jewish woman. They both dress modestly, teach at the same diverse city school and both face arranged marriages within their faith community. The movie focuses on the friendship that blossoms between the two women because of all the things they share: they are religious, dress modestly, have strong opinions, have a modern sensibility and refuse to compromise their values to conform to mainstream society.
Though the film is called Arranged, I found the marriage narrative to be more of a setting in which to explore the challenges these women face as religious women in a modern world. We explore these women's lives at a threshold, at a crossroads. If they choose to divert from the path that their families and faiths have set out for them, this is the time in their lives this is most likely to happen. They have entered the workforce, they have the freedom to explore their options, and they are facing increasing pressures from the outside world to change to better fit mainstream society.
Whatever your faith, it is a truism that the least easy path in life is to fully inhabit, embrace and live out the tenets of your faith. I believe that we are born to our faiths, born to our Gods. I understand the idea of the Jews being a chosen people, because I feel born to and chosen by my Gods. When you are born to a faith, you have little choice regarding whether or not you follow it. To be fully yourself you must be the best Jew, Muslim, Christian, or Pagan you can be. To say it is a choice is to say your deepest convictions and most cherished beliefs are the product of a whim.
Arranged illustrates this beautifully. At one point Rochel and Nasira are called into the principal's office. The principal is convinced that the two women are confined by their faith. She expresses concern for "this religious thing" and encourages them to embrace a more mainstream feminist viewpoint. This well-meaning yet offensive "intervention" only serves to cement the women's bond. I think there is a false sense that any woman deeply committed to her faith is somehow not a feminist or is in a subservient and demeaning position because of her faith. I have even encountered this in the Pagan community from those who feel that our faith is all about our choices, and not our relationships and responsibilities. Nasira and Rochel are in what is considered by some to be patriarchal, misogynist and oppressive religious traditions, yet they are smart, empowered, and fully engaged in shaping their futures. Being women of faith does not make them less of a woman; it does make them more thoughtful about their choices in life.
As a Pagan woman, and as a Witch, I really responded to this scene, and even to the process of arranged marriage. I have friend who is a single female Christian. Her number one requirement for a husband is that he is a strong Christian. I understand that, but not many people do. Their faith is not an accessory that they have tossed on at a whim, like a pretty scarf. It is integral to their lives, it is their foundation and it is their joy. In the same way, I have reached a point where I am no longer interested in non-Pagan men. Dating someone to whom you have to explain all your cultural and religious references and traditions is tiring, and the moment when they suggest, or even insist, you hide your religion around their Christian/Jewish/Muslim parents is heartbreaking.
A hopeless movie junkie, Star Foster believes that good movies are the mythic narratives of our times.