Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Ayla, right, one of the women featured in I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. Courtesy d-aep.org
Ayla, right, one of the women featured in I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. Courtesy d-aep.org
The Brazilian filmmaker Betty Martins, who wanted to explore why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab and, in one case, the niqab, despite not being a Muslim herself. Joerg Brunsendorf
The Brazilian filmmaker Betty Martins, who wanted to explore why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab and, in one case, the niqab, despite not being a Muslim herself. Joerg Brunsendorf

New documentary covers all angles on Muslim women’s choices for wearing the veil

The documentary I Wasn't Always Dressed Like This explores the act of wearing the veil in quite a poetic and personal way, following three Muslim women of different backgrounds.

What makes a woman cover her hair, or go further and cover her body and her face?

This question had preoccupied the Brazilian filmmaker Betty Martins for a long time as she walked around London, where she has lived for eight years, noticing more and more visibly Muslim women on the streets.

“Everything I knew about Muslim women was through the media, and the discourse was always negative, about oppression and backwardness. People would generally see a woman wearing a hijab and feel sorry for her, or assume she had been forced to wear it,” she says. “But at the same time, the Arab Spring was happening and Muslim women were being involved and that made me think: ‘Wait a second’. The more I started reading about it, the more I realised there were lots of very strong Muslim women. I wanted to explore that.”

Martins decided to seek out her own answers in the best way that she knew how – by turning her camera on Muslim women and hearing their explanations for covering up. The documentary film, called I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This, follows three women of very different backgrounds talking introspectively about what led them to wear the hijab (and in one case, the niqab), but also about their personal experiences growing up that have shaped the choices that they have made today. Although the women’s names are not shared, they talk openly on camera about their feelings.

“The moment a woman puts on a headscarf, a lot of people who don’t even know her make judgements,” says Martins. “I wanted to let the women in the film represent themselves. They aren’t there to justify or convince you of their choice, they are there to talk about discovering themselves, and they do so in a way which is articulate and poetic. There is an obsession with the hijab in the West, and I wanted to go beyond that because it means very different things to different people.”

I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This is being screened at various locations in the UK this month, including at London’s Goldsmiths College on Thursday. It’s also scheduled to be shown in Chile and Brazil.

One of the women in the film is a French convert, who knew little about Islam growing up. The second woman featured grew up in an artistic, musical family in Syria — her father was not keen for her to wear the hijab. “He said: ‘It’ll limit your choices’,” she tells the camera, smiling. The third woman, who is British and lives in London, wears a niqab. Though she was born Muslim, she knew little about religion until her late teens.

Martins is hoping to collaborate with cultural institutions globally to screen the film. She says that she wants to challenge ­preconceptions.

“I don’t see them as ‘Muslim’ women; I just see them as women. I hope the documentary deconstructs that sense of ‘otherness’ that has been attached to women who wear the veil,” she says. “Someone who saw it told me that before, she never agreed with the hijab. Now, after hearing the narratives in the film, she at least respected their choices as women. That is an important connection to make, and I hope the film can break down ideological baggage and lead people to understand differences.”

•For more information on I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This, visit www.d-aep.org

artslife@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National