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Panda: of Desire and Abjection

Short film production has become more popular in the Arabian Gulf region recently, when compared to the predecessors in other regions of the Arab World. Aspiring young directors are finally beginning to receive the support they need for their creations. What matters to me more as a postcolonial feminist scholar is not the availability of funding — however important that is — but the issues presented within the short films themselves. I will take for example Panda (2012), an Omani/Kuwaiti short film directed by Jassim Al-Nofally to discuss from my point of view the transformative concepts these films are adapting and bringing into the picture.

Panda is an 8 minute film about Ziad, a young man about to get married and facing the emotional dilemma of having to get rid of his beloved stuffed panda bear. Ziad eventually murders his Panda friend and buries him in the desert, leaving him behind and heading towards married life. While this film may carry different impressions to Arabic and international viewers, I believe that the basics can be gathered easily. Expectations of the married man, and of his masculinity, disallow him to extend his relations to his panda friend. One cannot but assume that the panda symbolizes something. But what though? Al-Nofally has left this up to the viewer. This particular viewer, me, has read the symbols through the lens of a feminist critique of Freudian/Lacanian psychoanalysis. Borrowing from Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject, her term for all that the subject categorizes as filthy and polluting, can Ziad’s murder be considered a quest for abjection in order to rid himself of his abject desires and ensure his subjectivity? And if murder is seen here as reaching abjection, can the panda itself be considered as part of the abject too? If the panda is the manifestation of Ziad’s desire, then I argue that by reaching abjection, he attempted the destruction of his own desire in order to uphold the desire of the norm. In other words, marriage within a heteronormative Islamic ideal, is a cleansing system capable of maintaining sexuality and desire, as well as a solid masculinity.

Whatever the panda symbolizes, its destruction seemed inevitable to Ziad in order to reach his assumed correct state of sexuality (represented here as marriage). This notion can be easily compared to the Freudian thought of feminine sexuality that only reaches its correct state when the female child is repelled by her external pleasure (masturbation) and adopts an internal alternative. Feminist psychoanalysts have rejected this androcentric notion of sexuality that alienates women from their bodies. But how does this relate to Ziad’s sexuality?

I contend that the Freudian philosophy of sexuality and desire not only alienates women from their bodies, but men as well. Patriarchy not only disrupts and rejects the masculinity in women, but also the femininity in men, creating a gender split argued “natural” when in fact it is socially constructed. Furthermore, this generic gender split is foreign to Islamic thought, and is adapted from imperial and Eurocentric views of man/woman.

In Panda, whether consciously or not, Al-Nofally has adopted a more feminist, fluid notion of sexuality. Al-Nofally has allowed our Ziad a vulnerability uncommon to the image of the Arabic man. Perhaps it is Al-Nofally’s own desire to maintain a childlike side to man in a patriarchal society.


Sarah Abu Bakr

MFA of Computational Studio Arts, Goldsmiths, University of London

PhD Candidate of Art Education and Women’s Studies, Penn State University


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