Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (2000)

**Reader Discretion is advised. Moderately vulgar language and unrated film, not deemed suitable for children

This is nice, I thought. This mural is so colorful! The drawings of the sun, the girl and the boy are warming. The sound of children laughing sets the stage. I picture the woman asking Ali about his life sitting on a couch, and Ali sitting across from her, playing coy and acting too cool for school. This must be his school psychologist, I muse, the one they bring in for the trouble children. I wonder what he did to get there—Wait, what?

The mural is replaced with the shot of a dirty little boy speaking into a large, commercial microphone. A swarm of miscreants surrounds him, filling the screen. 

Yeah, she might not be a counselor after all. 

God, there’s so many of them. I see this all the time on the news. Well, at least on the channels that actually cover world news instead of Lassie’s miraculous journey home or the latest viral Youtube video. It’s the same, poor, curious crowd of dirty kids that run up to a reporter for that chance to be heard, or in most cases, to be seen for the first time. I’m too American for a movie like this, it’d never be my first choice for Movie night. But I’m too Arab to fall for a false sense of reality, and I’m too Mariam to think this movie isn’t based on the truth. I know that none of us have experienced true hardship, or real oppression. We don’t know what it’s like to be alone in the world, not really. The poor in America are first class citizens compared to the rest of the world’s indigent populace. There’s no homeless shelter, or soup-kitchen on the streets in the real world.

I’ve earned a wealth of knowledge on Moroccan culture, of which I owe to the families I was raised with as a child and have known into adulthood. They fostered my love for its cuisine, wedding customs, and while I can’t speak it, the ability to understand the language well enough to pass for a native. Heck, I’d never even heard of Casablanca (1942) until late into high school, and I’ve known all about cuscus long before Dr. Oz introduced it. I first caught wind of the reality of Morocco’s poor while watching the music video for Outlandish’s “Walou”. The ocean holds the kind of hope any child’s got for any kind of a life away from the hardship they call home.

Those poor babies, I thought, as rocks rained over the boys while they ran for cover under the rubble. Surrounded. Hounded. Alone. 

It was when my eyes watered after the sudden blow Ali earned for his bravery that it dawned on me just how ugly life could get. Looking back now, I can see the irony of the Dib gang’s motto: “Life…is a pile of shit”. Oh, is it ever. Watching as the three remaining youngsters drag Ali’s body down the low-lit streets of Casablanca, only to later lay to sleep beside his corpse on the cold cement ground, was enough to make my heart wheeze. So much for my happy ending. 

Boubakr, Omar, and Kwiza, Ali’s fellow shipmates on the O.S.S. Hell-hole, are now the faces of this operation. Emotions ran high—higher than usual—after Boubakr was violated by the frighteningly lost man-child that is Dib. Dib, while deaf, (not dumb—at least not in the official sense) can comprehend death, emotion, consequence, and has a disturbing perception of reality. As much as I hated and despised the very sight of him, I could not help but feel a great pity for Dib. I felt it because of a recent understanding of predators as a result of a character in Paul Scheuring’s Prison Break TV series. Sexual predator and serial murderer (as if one felony wasn’t enough) Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, was the bane of my existence for as long as I could bear to watch the show. I still hate him and fear the likes of him. Yet, it wasn’t until the revealing flashback of Bagwell as a child being preyed upon by his own drunken, sh*tbag hillbilly of a father that I could fathom the existence of a being so cruel. It scared me—still does—but I could understand the reasoning behind it, however sick. It doesn’t make it right or natural that someone should ever touch a child like that. It’s scarring, and wrong and any freak of nature that ever does so should be put away for the sake of humanity. The very thought of it makes me want to curl up and scream my lungs out. More than twice, I found myself in a fetal position trying to decide whether I was crying in disbelief or fear or whether both were ever separate emotions.

That child had a mother who loved him but didn’t have her own life set. She could never be enough for him, much less a sufficient source of guidance. It appears reasonable that Ali should have left in the first place, but to what?

There’s a reason this movie remains unrated. It’s a terrifying and remarkably gruesome, raw, and horrid depiction of the truth. Left with no faith, or moral compass, and no boundaries, the truth has a pungent smell. Ali’s dreams surpassed his reality and left him for dead, or as Kwiza so rightly put it, “like a dog”.

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