Still from The Idol 2015 Film

The Idol (Ya tayr el tayer) [2015] tells the story of young Mohammed Assaf and his journey to compete in the 2013 Arab Idol competition. The movie is a fictionalized account of the actual events that led Assaf, a former wedding singer from a refugee camp in Gaza, to win the television show.

Voice of a Nation: Needless to say, music plays an incredibly important role in The Idol, both as a narrative device and as a means of infusing Palestinian culture into an environment that aimed to suppress that kind of expression. Mohammed’s passionate vocals punctuate scenes with an exotic flair conjured by hope for a better future. The way the drama film’s cinematography focuses on the decrepit street views and cityscapes of turmoil underscored by traditional Palestinian songs juxtaposes the images with a patriotic beauty. The emotion and conviction with which Mohammed sings pierces moments of silence like a bell tolling for a sacred observance. Music acts like a peaceful remedy for a wounded nation, and it is with this notion that Mohammed begins to feel the pressure as he advances further into the singing competition.

The Winner Takes it All: While the film depicts itself as sort of a biographical drama, there is an entire cast of actors playing pivotal roles from the singer’s life. The movie’s plot begins in 2005, where Mohammed, his sister, and their group of friends struggle to live their dream of becoming famous musicians and eventually moving out of Gaza. The performances given by these young actors are genuine and believable as they navigate through the unjustness of their society. Young Mohammed and his sister Nour share moments of tender optimism that carry the audience through bleaker circumstances later in the film. Another interesting choice in editing comes with the inclusion of original footage taken from the competition and interlaced with the actor’s portrayal of Mohammed.


Truly a picture of triumph, The Idol memorializes a moment
of unforgettable success 
for a young man with a seemingly impossible dream.