The film tells the fictional story of a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, Amira, whose father is being held as a prisoner in an Israeli jail.
She was conceived after sperm was smuggled out of prison surreptitiously, a practice that Palestinian prisoner support groups say has led to the birth of almost 100 children in the last ten years.
In the film, however, it turns out that the man she believes is her father is actually impotent, and that her mother became pregnant with the semen of an Israeli prison guard.
The film had its premiere at the Venice Biennale in September where it won two awards. But after a backlash began on social media, recent days have seen a chorus of complaints from Palestinian factions as well as from families with children conceived through ‘sperm smuggling.’
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture said the film “abused the dignity of prisoners, their heroism and their great struggle.” Hamas called it “offensive.”
Um Muhannad Al-Zeben, among the first women to give birth to a child from smuggled sperm, said the film effectively told an “Israeli story” because it did not represent the Palestinian struggle.
There are currently around 4,500 Palestinians designated as security prisoners in Israeli jails, according to one Palestinian prisoners support group.
They remain among the most potent symbols of the conflict. Israel views them as terrorists responsible for numerous fatal attacks on civilian and military targets, while many Palestinians see them as freedom fighters against occupation.
Announcing the withdrawal from the 2022 Academy Awards submissions, the Royal Film Commission of Jordan said it stood by the movie’s artistic value believing that it did “highlight [prisoners’] plight and resistance as well as their yearning for a dignified life despite the occupation.”
It was pulling the submission, however, “in light of the great controversy raised by the film and its interpretation by some that it harms the Palestinian cause and out of respect for the feelings of prisoners and their families.”
The film is a co-production involving Jordanian, Palestinian, and Egyptian partners. The film’s Egyptian director, Mohamed Diab, also defended the film but said screenings would stop until what he called a ‘special committee’ of prisoners and their families had watched the film and offered their opinions on whether the film should be permanently banned or not.