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“I didn’t want to change her situation, and that was quite difficult.”
Award-winning Lancastrian Deborah Perkin’s words resonate with the audience as the after-effect of her documentary film, Bastards, still hummed dimly in the Dukes’ darkened theatre.
The answer came in a Q&A session that took place after the screening: it was in reply to a question regarding the difficulty of her possible intervention while trying to remain removed from the situations she documented in the film. As an intelligent, empathetic woman, Perkin’s desire to aid the film’s subject –a young woman called Rabha who, after a traditional marriage and miserable coming together of her wider family, fell pregnant with her mute cousin’s baby so that she was pressured into marrying – is more than understandable.
Following the marital ceremony, two years of abuse (including a rape by her husband) and then the birth of her daughter Salma, Rabha fought for the recognition of her child in the eyes of Moroccan law and society as legitimate. This required the legalisation of Rabha’s “fatha marriage”, deemed improper by modern Islamic society, and for her estranged husband to accept Salma as his own. This long, arduous process through legal proceedings is captured on film in Bastards and offers a totally alien and misogynistic culture that we in the west can hardly imagine.
“How much dare you alter the story that’s happening in front of you?” Deborah puts to the audience. “(…) Clearly your presence must make a difference – it must – but at the same time it’s amazing how quickly people forget that you are there, especially in extreme (situations).”
In the film, Perkin was given unprecedented filming access to the court proceedings undertaken by Rabha, a process made longer by Salma’s father not, at first, turning up to the date of court proceedings and, eventually, when a decision in Salma’s favour was reached, an appeal being launched that resulted in a further year’s case work. Perkin discussed briefly how she did not reach out to Rabha’s husband for permission to film him in court, following a discussion with Rabha’s lawyer Lamia Faridi:
“When it came to the father I didn’t ask his permission to film, but I was filming him because I was in offices of the court, and they gave me permission. […] I was the first ever person [allowed to] film in Moroccan court, so, you know, that was pretty amazing. In fact, I kept asking [Lamia] ‘don’t you think we ought to go and alert [Rabha’s husband] that we’re going to be filming?’ And she said ‘no, because they might not turn up again!’”
The programme has been watched by over a third of the Moroccan TV audience, igniting a fire of change in the country and how they treat single mothers and their therefore deemed “illegitimate” children. Perkin is obviously delighted by the film’s success, though noted several young women requested to have their faces blanked out in both the Moroccan and International versions of the film for fear their fathers would “kill them” – it’s clear there’s still a long way to go.