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Work of art or breach of public morality? Jordanians debate ‘Al Hara’ film

By Maria Weldali - Jan 18,2023 - Last updated at Jan 18,2023

The poster of the film (Image courtesy of The Alleys Instagram page)

AMMAN — A Jordanian movie currently streaming on Netflix titled “Al Hara”, also known as “The  Alleys”, has sparked a mixed response among Jordanian viewers.

Directed by Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning writer Bassel Ghandour, “Al Hara” follows the story of Ali, a “hustler leading a double life” in a grim neighbourhood in Eastern Amman.

“Al Hara” is not the first Jordanian work to be streamed on Netflix. The teen drama “Jinn”, which depicted the lives of Jordanian teens, is among several Jordanian works presented on the platform.

“Al Hara”, in the words of sociologist Hussein Khozahe, “violates Jordanian values, and is an assault to our religious traditions”, pointing out that the use of offensive, profane language and obscene content and scenes, “was totally unnecessary”, even if they mirror some truth.

“It is of paramount importance to have a Jordanian production on the world’s largest streaming platform, but we must not ignore our moral and societal values,” he said, noting that this is particularly important as movies are largely used to inspire social change.

Speaking with The Jordan Times over the phone, Amani Ammar, a Jordanian in her 20s, said that “the movie brings about despair and uses repulsive words,” adding that different stories are present in people’s homes, whether in Jordan or elsewhere, but “there is no reason to breach public morality”.

The topic was even discussed in a recent parliamentary session, during which MP Muhammad Abu Sailik criticised the movie and called for an investigation into its producers, as it “generates a bad reputation” for Jordanian society.

On Twitter, @saifmanaseer_ wrote: “no one denies that the movie presented issues that exist in our society….but what did the vulgur and profane language add to the script”.

Managing Director at the Royal Film Commission (RFC), Mohannad Al Bakri told The Jordan Times on Wednesday that “the movie depicts and unveils a dark side of society that exists in all societies, whether we like it or not”. However, he noted that a fictional movie is not meant to reflect the realities lived by many.

Moreover, Bakri highlighted that “The Alley” does not claim the ambition of representing Jordan as a whole. Crime movies that detail the stories of the mafia and gangs, and expose “possible” dealings and interactions within a specific community, cannot be a full representation of a country, he noted.

In consideration of other Jordanian content presented on Netflix, such as the “Jinn” series, the RFC managing director pointed out that “Al Hara” and “Jinn” have not been displayed on public Jordanian television. They are on a subscription-based platform, “and it is up to each [person] to decide whether to subscribe or not, and whether to watch or not”.

Regarding the negative portrayal of a neighbourhood in Amman, the director said that the movie is neither a “documentary” nor a “touristic movie”, and said that people are free to express their opinion, including their disapproval and dislike of the work, as “this is exactly the role of art; to allow people to debate”.

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