Directed by Saudi Arabian filmmaker Faiza Ambah, Mariam (2015) portrays the struggles of Mariam, a Muslim French teenager who decides to wear the hijab but must contend with her school’s enforcement of a 2004 French law banning religious symbols from public institutions. Mariam must also deal with her liberal father, who opposes the hijab because of his own internalization of Islamophobic narratives that have become widespread in France. Engaging with feminist and cultural studies by such scholars as Saba Mahmood, Mohja Kahf, Lila Abu-Lughod, and Sara Ahmed, this article offers an analysis of Mariam, focusing on the protagonist’s embodied encounters with her teacher, school principal, father, and fellow students. The article argues that by recounting Mariam’s gendered and racialized struggles with forced unveiling, Ambah shifts the discourse on the head scarf from one that focuses on the perceived oppression of Islam to one that highlights the violence of the secular state.

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