RIYADH: On the evening of February 7, young women across the country sat in front of their screens to watch a particular story unfold that sheds light on coming of age, love, dealing with trauma, dealing with loss, taboo original, obsolete anime references, and coming to terms with one’s own reality.
In a male-dominated industry, Sarah Taibah’s “Jameel Jeddan” is the first Saudi show ever starred, written and created by a Saudi woman.
The plot is anything but typical. A strong-headed Jameel wakes up from a five-year coma and is forced to complete her senior year of high school and join a society she no longer associates with. As a coping mechanism, she begins to experience glitches in the form of an animated alternate reality.
Although condensing the complexity of the Saudi female experience into just six episodes seems far from realistic, Taibah comes pretty close. In many ways, “Jameel Jeddan” turned out to be every woman’s story.
“I wanted to write about a character who returns to society after a major event has happened,” Taibah told Arab News, adding that the idea for the show was inspired by his time in quarantine.
The show aims to shine a light on the experience of women living in Saudi Arabia, its success nuanced by the collective effort to bring those experiences to life. “I’m beyond proud that over 80% of the cast are female and almost 50% of the crew are female, which is something so rare,” Taibah said.
“I’m very lucky to have a forward-thinking director who has made sure his entire AD department will be women because he doesn’t want to misdirect women or portray them inauthentically,” he said. -she adds.
Anas BaTahaf, the show’s director and editor, and Taibah have collaborated on several projects in the past, including the anthology show “No. 2” and BaTahaf’s feature film “Faye’s Pallet.”
“Jameel Jeddan” is, by all means, one of the most unconventional portrayals of a woman on Saudi television. While the women of the region are often seen as submissive and controlled in the eyes of Western media, the headstrong, deep and free-spirited main character exemplifies the dominant individuality of Saudi women and their diversities.
“It’s very fresh. I am, and always will be, a proponent of giving women a space and a voice. I think this industry has been male dominated for so long and it’s new to have female voices,” BaTahaf told Arab News.
I’m beyond proud that over 80% of the cast are female and almost 50% of the crew are female, which is such a rare thing.
The director said he decided to hire a consulting director, Jawaher Al-Amri, to authentically portray the experiences of Saudi women.
“No matter how hard I tried to understand things in my society and the conversations I’m coming from, ultimately it’s not the same when you actually make a decision that will actually affect how you lead a certain character. … I care about representation, I care about diversity,” he said.
The show is also a pioneer in the industry as the first Saudi TV series set in an all-girls high school. “I loved the details of the school. They were so realistic, especially for people who studied in Saudi Arabia. Personally, I was so connected to Salwa, Jameel’s friend, and that made me love and identify with the show even more,” said viewer Doa Al-Saadi, whose fan art was featured. on the series’ Instagram page.
Although the series’ target audience is teenagers and young adults, it was generally well received regardless of generational gaps, reaching the “10 Most Viewed in Saudi Arabia” list on host platform Shahid.
“I was so surprised by how many men really enjoyed the show. They always say ‘women watch action movies, but men don’t watch girl movies’, but if it’s is well produced, they’re going to like it. If it’s good, it’s good,” Taibah said.
Abdulaziz Ahmad, an avid viewer, shared his enthusiasm for the show by dealing so maturely with sensitive issues.
“It examines the frustration Jameel has with society, not just blaming everyone else in society. Instead, it examines the complexity of the situation and how this ongoing conflict between emotions, beliefs and desires is within the reach of the characters surrounding the protagonist,” he told Arab News.
“I think that’s what made the show so successful. Most cinematic works of the same nature as ‘Jameel Jeddan’ address these issues in a very blatant and tacky way. As a viewer, you lose the fun,” Al-Saadi said.
In a way, the show acts as live documentation of Jeddah. One of the show’s venues, Al-Baik in Al-Rawdah district, has closed since the show’s production.
As any Saudi knows, Al Baik is the epitome of comfort food in our culture.
“Ever since I was a child, there has always been this Al Baik in Al Rawdah,” Taibah said.
The show takes you on a city tour, creating an authentic experience of what life is like in Jeddah. Taibah and BaTahaf chose to focus less on tourist attractions such as Albalad, and more on those common to locals, such as the old corniche.
“I loved how it was a love letter to Jeddah, a beautiful city that isn’t usually described as such,” Ahmad said.