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By Nancy Heller Moskowitz, LPC, NCC, CCMHC, 
AMHCA’s Public Awareness, 
Advocacy & Marketing Committee

I’ve written this Advocate department for almost two years now, seeking out films that support solutions or circumstances we face in our daily professional lives. This month I’ve chosen a 2007 independent film called “Arranged.” About arranged marriage, the film runs 90 minutes, is available to rent or own, and was recorded in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. 

The premise of the film comes from a real situation in which an Orthodox Jewish woman befriends a devout Muslim woman. This film reflects on multicultural issues, communication skills within family dynamics, independence as well as questioning long-held religious beliefs and practices, friendship, love and marriage, and stereotyped characters from diverse cultures. 

Many scenes from the film could be used in individual and group counseling sessions. Though it focuses on the lives of early 20-year-olds, it can be used with adolescents, too. As with all films, I know that both students and new professionals will find useful scenes. One caution: Though the acting is wonderful, I found the script to be a bit too pat, so be prepared to discuss this before viewing the film with clients.

Main Characters

Rochel (Rachel) is a member of an Orthodox Jewish Community in Brooklyn, New York. She is 22 and is working at her first job as a para-professional to a blind, Puerto Rican boy in 4th grade. Rochel is unsure of herself and full of emotion—she is excited, anxious, curious, defiant, happy, and in love. Two issues raised in the film revolve around Rochel: marriage of the first-born before any younger siblings marry, and the ways in which a religiously observant young woman experiences the secular world while remaining committed to her religious principles.

Living a parallel existence to Rochel is Nasira, who is more confident than Rochel. A Syrian-born woman who is a devout Muslim, she has just started her first teaching job working with 4th graders. 

Although they dress differently, Rochel and Nasira learn soon after meeting that they have many things in common. Each young woman is trying to remain committed to her faith and is dealing with an arranged marriage.

Scenes of Interest

We meet these young women at an opening session at their new school. Rochel brings her student to Nasira’s classroom. We witness Nasira teaching a lesson where a young boy of color is acting out. When Nasira stops the lesson, the boy blurts out, “How can you teach together? Everyone knows that the Muslims want to push the Jews back into the sea. You can never be friends.” Nasira begins to answer, and then Rochel stands up and gives an assignment for the next day—a values clarification exercise—to ameliorate the situation. The students are to stand in a Unity Circle, with each child pinning to his or her chest a word that describes him or her. This scene illustrates the directness of young children, sensitivity to cultural issues, and shows traditional dress worn by both characters.

Elementary school delivers many challenges to these women; lunch, touch, and supervision are just a few. The women are shown eating alone initially, and Rochel wistfully observes three other teachers discussing their love lives. Later, a moving scene with her student takes place. As he is visually impaired, he asks to touch her face, which is unacceptable within Orthodox Jewish life. No man is allowed to openly touch a woman, except his wife, in public, but after a pause, Rochel agrees. And then there is the principal of the school. Crude and rude, she tells both young women that they are her brightest teachers, and asks them how they can still follow their “outdated” traditions. She tries to give them money to buy modern Western clothing, and when both refuse her overtures, their friendship with each other is set. 

In some of the reviews I read of this movie, the principal was referred to as the comic relief. When I discussed this character in a group, most were offended by her; however, this character does raise important culture-clash issues.

Both families live well and the parents respect each other. In Rochel’s family, dinner is an important time, and it is during a dinner scene that the viewer is introduced to arranged marriages, which some in Orthodox communities still use. The parents are presumed to know better than their children who will be a suitable life partner. The viewer sees each of Rochel’s prospective grooms in a comedic way—as boors, self-conscious and inexperienced, and overbearing types. Rochel eventually rebels and says that she is going to take a break from dating. 

Spunky and self-assured Nasira lives in a less dogmatic home. Viewers see her using modern technology, and affection between her parents is evident. There is a softer family life shown in this household. We see her father involved in the Islamic faith, and in a dramatic scene, we see him washing before prayer within his home. Her family is committed to their traditions, yet appears more modern in their relationships. Nasira participates in the process of choosing her husband. In one scene, her family is having dinner with a friend of her father’s. The friend is visiting from Syria, 20 years older than she, and a poor prospect in Nasira’s eyes. When she asks to be excused, her mother follows her into the bathroom and they talk. It is decided that Mom will talk to Baba (father) and they reenter the dining room. Later, her father accedes to her wishes. Sensitive issues—so prior knowledge or detailed questioning would be appropriate should this present itself in your session.

Another issue raised is family shame. Again, this is more dramatic in the Jewish home. We witness Rochel’s mother banging on her bedroom door. Rochel has earphones on and is trying to ignore her mother. Finally, she opens the door, confronts her mother, and runs out of the house to the apartment of a cousin who left the community. A wonderful scene follows where they go to a party. 

A disturbing scene is where Rochel brings Nasira home after school. Rochel’s mother is appalled, and Nasira is made very uncomfortable and leaves. Though it doesn’t diminish the friendship between the young women, the viewer witnesses Rochel’s mother’s fear that having Nasira to their home will diminish Rochel’s prospects for a good mate. In contrast, when Rochel visits Nasira’s home, her reception is more inviting, if distant. 

Rochel’s marriage appears to be arranged, but she actually chooses her own groom. When she and Nasira go to Brooklyn College to bring a book to Nasira’s brother, sparks fly between Rochel and one of his study partners, Gideon, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew. Nasira takes action and arranges to get Gideon’s information to the community’s matchmaker, who “discover” Gideon herself. Rochel and Gideon become happily engaged, as does Nasira and her marriage partner.

Finally, father–daughter relationships are shown in a loving way. Both fathers care about their daughters. Each is committed to his heritage and instills this in family interactions, yet both fathers allowed their daughter to go outside of the community and provided their daughters with opportunities for higher education. Ultimately, they want to marry their daughters to suitable mates. Each is proud to toast their choices and feels confident that the young women will be happy. For some, this element of the movie might appear contrived. In fact, I believe that the portrayal is too neat. Studies show that there is more family abuse against women in observant, religious homes, many of which believe the only appropriate roles for women are as mothers and homemakers. Some prior study of habits of different religions may be needed before watching this film with clients.

Just as our world is an ever-expanding melting pot of cultures, our office demographics are changing more frequently and our clients bring up new cultural perspectives and topics within sessions. I hope watching this film can be a resource for assisting clients with working on cultural issues in counseling. Enjoy the film!

Until next time,