Soumaya Image


By Rob Rector | February 11, 2022

Directed by Ubaydah Abu-Usayd and Waheed Khan, and written by Ubaydah Abu-Usayd, Maryam Um-Usayd, Soumaya is ripped from actual headlines and controversy centered on a French Muslim woman fired from her job as an airline security executive for nonexistent ties to jihad circles. The drama, initially shot and produced in 2018, has faced similar battles, as a right-wing smear campaign led to the film being pulled at the last minute from its preview at the Grand Rex theater in March 2019. It is a bold, daring debut requiring nuanced conversations that seldom occur in the social media realm, where one’s beliefs must be crammed into 160 characters or less.

Soumaya (Soraya Hachoumi) suffers the indignity of not only being abruptly fired from a position she’s held for 14 years but has had her home raided by SWAT looking to tie her to the 2015 Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Law enforcement acted solely on suspicion over evidence because Soumaya is active in her local mosque. When a coworker at the airport is filmed taking frequent prayer breaks, it alerts even more speculation.

Soumaya takes tangents to follow supporting characters’ journeys as well. We are introduced to Kais Seddiki (Khalid Berkouz), a lawyer who once prosecuted on behalf of companies, now switching sides to help defend Soumaya fight her wrongful termination. Additionally, there’s Jerome (Julien Lheureux), a citizen who decides he’s had enough of his country and departs to North Africa for some soul searching. These additional perspectives divert from the gravity of the central narrative. All are compelling threads but would be better suited for their own films. Every time we drift over to Jerome’s tale, it halts any momentum for our core plot. The emotional wringer Soumaya and her family must undergo is more than enough for the runtime.

“…fired from her job as an airline security executive for nonexistent ties to jihad circles.”

The film’s strength hinges on Hachoumi’s performance. At one point, she states, “I refuse to be the victim here,” and we fully believe her. The actor imbues the character with steely determination and quiet sympathy as she refuses to become another potential casualty in a country’s rudderless response to terrorism. She is captivating as we witness her face despair, determination, and slow-boiling, righteous anger as she learns just how flimsy the case against her was.

Abu-Usayd and Khan paint her story with a wide spectrum, demonstrating the complexities and nuances the Muslim faith faces when interpreted through the eyes of Western culture, often leading to anger and fear. According to the filmmakers, their screening deposit was paid, and promotion of the independent film began shortly after. However, the theater canceled the day before it was to screen, citing it did not screen indie films. Yet, later in a court proceeding, the owners of the Grand Rex admitted that it was the subject matter and the subsequent fascistic social media backlash its premier had garnered that caused them to deny the screening. 

Despite its narrative shortcomings, Soumaya presents a modulated perspective on the aftermath of reactionary politics and procedures. As one of 4,000 French citizens who had their homes raided following the attack, the titular character’s journey to keep her dignity is a story that should be seen. Thanks to a strong central performance and balanced viewpoint, it is worth viewing once.

Soumaya (2022)

Directed: Ubaydah Abu-Usayd, Waheed Khan

Written: Ubaydah Abu-Usayd, Maryam Um-Usayd

Starring: Soraya Hachoumi, Sarah Perriez, Khalid Berkouz, etc.

Movie score: 6.5/10

Soumaya Image

"…a bold, daring debut..."

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