‘We can be the good guys too’: Arab heroes fight ISIS in Hollywood film ‘Mosul’

Iraqi actor Thaer al-Shayei stars in Hollywood's first full Arabic language film "Mosul." (Supplied)

Mosul is the city from which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi pronounced the establishment of his so-called caliphate in 2014. The Iraqi city became an ISIS stronghold until 2016, when local militias and allies mobilized to liberate Iraq’s second largest city from ISIS rule.

Now the story of ISIS’ defeat has attracted Hollywood’s attention. “Mosul” tells the true story of an elite police unit, the Nineveh SWAT Team, made up of brave Iraqi men who drove ISIS out of their city.

“Mosul” is the first Hollywood action movie shot entirely in Arabic. Its Middle Eastern characters are the heroes of the plot, in contrast to the common depiction of Arab soldiers as villains in Hollywood films.

“It is significant for the world to see that we are not all the same and that we can be the good guys too,” lead actor Thaer al-Shayei told Al Arabiya English.

Born in Basra in 1981, al-Shayei said ‘Mosul’ is a landmark film as it challenges the usual media narrative of Arabs.

Sudanese actor Waleed Elgadi, who stars alongside al-Shayei in ‘Mosul,’ said the film humanizes Arab males for a mainstream audience.

“Rarely do we see Arabs positively portrayed on our cinema screens. Often they are a plot device to further the story along, a villain for the lead to overcome...Not in Mosul. As an Arab actor and budding writer it gives me hope: Our turn will come,” Elgadi shared on Instagram.

“Mosul” was produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, collectively known as the Russo brothers, the team behind the blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.” Endgame’s gross of $2.8 billion makes it the highest grossing film of all time.

The film is completely in Iraqi dialect (with English subtitles) “to honor the narrative and to honor the members of Nineveh SWAT,” the Russo team told Deadline.com. The producers brought in Iraqis who lived in Mosul during ISIS rule and experienced the conflict firsthand, to advise the actors on-set during filming in Morocco.

“Mosul” debuted at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday.

The Hollywood rendition is not the first time the story of the battle for Mosul has been told on camera.

Filmmaker Olivier Sarbil risked his life following an elite team of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service for six months in 2016, as the soldiers fought their way house by house through the city to drive out ISIS. The footage turned into the documentary “Mosul,” giving viewers an intimate view of four Iraqi soldiers as they faced snipers, suicide bombers, and drone attacks, and lost family and friends in the process.

“The soldiers were fighting ISIS street-by-street, house-by-house and suffering casualties every day. By the time I finished filming, more than half of the squad I was with had been killed or wounded in the battle,” Sarbil told Al Arabiya English.

Mosul documentary (courtesy of Olivier Sarbil)

Mosul documentary (courtesy of Olivier Sarbil)

Sarbil’s “Mosul” garnered many accolades including a US Emmy Award for outstanding cinematography.

Sarbil said it is great to see Hollywood making a film about what he witnessed.

“Western audiences are used to seeing US soldiers cast as the heroes in films about Iraq, but here hopefully we will have a chance to see a different side to the story that will challenge the stereotypes of Arab fighters,” said Sarbil in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

He said Hollywood’s decision to have its film in Arabic with subtitles will add to its authenticity.

Last Update: Sunday, 26 July 2020 KSA 07:10 - GMT 04:10