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Palestinian actress uses Israeli film awards to denounce 'ethnic cleansing'

Juna Suleiman, winner of best actress at Ophir film awards for role in 'Let It Be Morning', says happiness is impossible 'when there are active efforts to erase Palestinian identity'
Still from a wedding scene in 'Let It Be Morning', directed by Eran Kolirin (Dori Media Group/ Les Films du Poisson)

A Palestinian actress, Juna Suleiman, has decried the "ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians" at an Israeli film awards ceremony, after being awarded best actress for her role in the film Let it be Morning.

The Palestinian film won big at Israel’s Ophir film awards on Tuesday, taking home a total of seven awards, including best director and screenplay, as well as best actress for Suleiman and her Palestinian co-star Alex Bakri.

Suleiman, who is working on a new film in Berlin, was unable to attend the awards. Her winner’s speech was read out by the film's Israeli director Eran Kolirin.

“Under normal circumstances, I would’ve felt happiness and gratitude for the award," her statement read, "but unfortunately, that’s impossible when there are active efforts to erase Palestinian identity and the collective pain that I drag along with me and that exists in every role I play.

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“Separating my role and my identity is a cynical and violent step built on ongoing colonialist traditions of erasing historic identities and ethnic cleansing that leave me no room for happiness but rather anger and frustration,” the statement continued.

Thanking director Kolirin for his “sensitivity and understanding” throughout the film’s production, Suleiman said that her “anger and frustration are the basis of the same experience that Let it be Morning brings to the screen”.

Palestinian story

The film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Palestinian writer Sayed Kashua. It follows the story of a Palestinian named Sami, an accountant and Palestinian citizen  of Israel who lives in Jerusalem. 

During the film, Sami, along with his wife and son, return to the village where he was born to attend his brother’s wedding. On their way back to Jerusalem after the wedding, the trio realise that the Israeli army has imposed a curfew on the village, blocking their road home. The family is left with no choice but to return to the village, where social and family tensions bubble up. 

'Let It Be Morning' film poster (Screengrab/ IMDB)
'Let It Be Morning' film poster (Screengrab/ IMDB)

As the winner of best screenplay at the Ophir Awards, Let it be Morning automatically enters as Israel’s selection for a nomination at the 2022 Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film. 

This is not the first time the film has made headlines. Three of the film’s Palestinian actors decided to boycott the Cannes Film Festival in July after the French festival labelled the film an “Israeli production”.

Nonetheless, Let it be Morning appears to be well on its way to receiving a “highly acclaimed” status, also winning the award for best Israeli film during September’s Haifa Film Festival. 

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