Challenging Orientalist Cultural Narratives of Arab Women

an analysis of a short film


  • Lily Gerloff-Blood Leiden University Bachelor International Studies


Orientalism, Arab Women, Agency, Identity, Short Film, Space , The New Scholar


In her short film Shedding Skin, Yumna Al-Arashi confronts Orientalist Western constructions of Arab women’s identities, by creating her own depiction. She displays scenes of nude Arab women in a hammam, accompanied by a self-narrated voice-over, addressing various aspects of identity and culture. This article explores how Al-Arashi’s film challenges dominant Western cultural narratives that perpetuate essentialised and exoticized constructions of Arab women. Through the portrayal of nude Arab women in the safe space of a hammam, Al-Arashi counters the notion of the ‘sexual object,’ by placing them in a closed space exempt from social expectations. Meanwhile, she deconstructs the notion of Arab women being oppressed by their culture, instead showing the West as oppressive for its hegemonic cultural narratives. I argue that Al-Arashi offers a construction that counters Orientalist representations of Arab women, and by challenging these, she is reclaiming agency not only for herself but also for the wider female Arab population within the tradition of Said’s theory of Orientalism.