Images of Hope in Ali Zaoua

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The opening image of Ali Zaoua is disturbing, yet somehow typical.  It shows a grimy little Casablancan street kid with a horrific past, his life tragically cut short by a rock thrown by another street kid.  And, sadly, this image of hopeless tragedy is all too often the one we are shown of the non-Western world.  In mainstream media, the non-Western world, especially the Arab world, is often portrayed as oppressed, poverty-stricken, and desperate. Ali Zaoua, being a story of homeless children, contains plenty of oppression, poverty, and desperation, but that is not all there is.

ali zaoua

In Ali Zaoua, we see the struggle of homelessness through the eyes of Ali and his three friends, Kwita, Omar, and Boubker. We witness their vulnerability to violence, sexual abuse, and addiction. We sense the psychological toll that the harsh situation takes on them. We see the continuation of a cycle of rejection and trauma, illustrated in a scene where Kwita is approached by a stray puppy attempting to show him rare affection, but each time the puppy reaches Kwita, he tosses it away. The desolation is even shown in the catchphrase of the street kids’ gang: “Life…is a pile of shit.” But even in the midst of this heartbreaking image, we see a glimmer of a dream. Ali Zaoua has a dream of being a sailor, of assembling a crew and sailing far away to an island with two suns. Ali’s dream offers his friends and him an escape from their gritty life on the streets, an escape far more satisfying than a sniff of glue. Even when Ali dies, his dream does not die with him; it captures the boys’ hearts, and they resolve to bury him “like a prince.”

In this we see a revision to the initial image of desolate trauma. Horror is juxtaposed with scenes of hope. There are moments of childish silliness and joyful play. There is fierce loyalty in the boys’ friendship and their steadfast determination to give Ali a proper burial. There are serene escapes created by Ali’s dream of sailing away to his island and by Kwita’s surreal fantasies of having a beautiful girlfriend and living a happy life with her. There is help offered by an old fisherman who validates Ali’s dream and assists with the burial. And there is love from Ali’s mother who cares deeply about her son despite having an unsavory profession.

The tone of the final scene of Ali Zaoua starkly contrasts that of the first scene, pushing back against Western media’s pitying gaze. In the final scene, Ali’s mother, the three boys, and the Captain come together to give Ali the most noble burial possible with their limited resources. We see the creation of a new family, bonded by their love for Ali and their belief in his dream. Instead of a boy who is rejected and stuck in an impossibly tragic life, we see Ali as someone whose dream brings people together, creating an alternative image with a renewed sense of hope.

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