"Scheherazade's Diary" Tells The Story of Lebanon's Female Outcasts

On Wednesday night at Le Mall Dbayeh’s Cinemall, I had the rare privilege of previewing “Scheherazade’s Diary,” the seven-time award-winning documentary emerging from acclaimed actress, directress, and social advocate Zeina Daccache. The tragicomic piece films the inmates of Baabda’s all-female prison over a 10-month period, during which Daccache engaged them in a theatre project doubling as drama therapy via her NGO Catharsis (more on that below).

Throughout the film, we are introduced to the stories of these women, these so-called pariahs who have been cast from the light of society because of their grave crimes of adultery, drug use, murder and more. What’s troubling is that many of the women we meet have never been tried—only accused—for their alleged misdeeds. One woman served four years without having been sentenced or lawfully convicted of wrongdoing.

Here is where the viewer breaks down and grapples fiercely with the corrupt machinations of this society. These women have endured forced marriages, unfulfilled romance, and domestic violence. Most of them have been snatched from their children, who grow up hearing skewed and disparaging views of their mothers and thus never come to visit them in Baabda.

It’s difficult to hold back tears as you behold the fate that has been smothered upon these untouchables. They are the victims of a society that oppresses them because it neither defends their basic rights nor legitimately arbitrates their supposed felonies. They have little to look forward to if and when they are released from prison, because who would ever embrace a criminal?

The only ray of positivity I found in their situation was the strong bonds they forged with their prisoner peers, manifested beautifully through the theatre initiative led by Daccache. In fact, Daccache is not new to this scene. In 2008, after having secured funding from the United Nations, she entered Roumieh prison to offer drama therapy to its male inmates. From that arose “12 Angry Lebanese,” a pioneering documentary based on the eponymous drama project that was later screened in 63 countries and garnered numerous awards.

Daccache operates through Catharsis (literally meaning “cleansing” or “purging”), which she founded in 2007 as the first non-profit organization in Lebanon to promote and offer therapy through the power of art and theater. Catharsis works in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons and private and public clinics for both children and adults. The group also leads team building, stress relief and communication séances in the context of corporate settings. Their noble vision is to see individuals in need of empathy learn new and healthy ways of living and gain a fresh perspective on their choices.

I applaud Daccache and her team for this very telling film spotlighting people who are all too often pushed into the recesses of oblivion. “Scheherazade’s Diary” will debut next Thursday, November 20, at VOX Cinemas (Beirut City Centre), Empire Metropolis (Sofil), and Cinemall. It is 80 minutes in length Arabic dialogue and French and English subtitles. You can watch the trailer of the film here.


For more about Catharsis: https://www.facebook.com/CatharsisLCDT
Address: KBC Center, 3rd floor, Kaslik Street, Sarba, Lebanon
Phone numbers: +961 3 162 573 and +961 9 914932






The female inmates of Baabda prison performing in a drama project.



Me attending the avant premiere--that's Zeina Daccache on the left.

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