While there have been many films, and a few documentaries filmed in Palestine, the third season of popular streaming series Ramy on Hulu marks the first time a major American TV production has filmed in the Palestinian territories. It is a groundbreaking, pioneering move, which will open the country up to many more opportunities to come. Inshallah.
Another aspect that makes the second episode of the third season extraordinary is the presence of Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir at the helm. In the episode, titled 'Egyptian Cigarettes' Ramy (Ramy Youssef) travels first class in a private jet to Israel, for a diamond deal with his Palestinian business partner, uncle Naseem, and then ends up in the West Bank to hook up with a girl he meets on Tinder. Sounds fun? It is and beyond your wildest dreams.
But what makes Ramy a standout show is the poignancy and great care in tackling the serious issues the showrunners display. This is an episode about what it's like to be Arab in Israel and more specifically, what it feels like to be a Palestinian in the Occupied Territories -- but also about privilege, Ramy's sense of coming into the situation. Jacir used the word solipsistic about the character, this idea that he sees the world only through his own existence.
A tender, very telling moment is when uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) tells Ramy on the plane over, courtesy of the Israeli Diamond Club, that he's thankful to the Jews because he'll finally be able to see his homeland -- Palestine. But Naseem never makes it out of the private hangar at the Tel Aviv airport, because the IDF take him into custody for, well, traveling while Palestinian. Actually he does make it out of the hangar, I stand corrected, but he ends up in their interrogation room, and then he's securely placed on a flight back to the States.
To read a complete recap of the episode, check out this Vulture piece. There is also a piece on Slate focusing on what they called "the most uncomfortable scene ever" worth a read.
Jacir admitted to us that she had purposely shied away from television, but that when Ramy approached her, she felt like this was the perfect show for her to direct. And she is absolutely right, as the episode is so chock full of insight and important themes that it ends up providing a turning point for television as a whole. What makes Ramy such a powerful show, I dare say even more so than its Netflix spinoff Mo, is how deeply it goes in trying to make us understand the similarities between all of us, as human. Even while portraying the Israeli characters in this episode, there is a clear larger picture idea at work here. The whole season 3 is simply addictive and if you can find a way to watch it, do it as soon as possible.
So ultimately, what made Jacir change her mind and give television a try? We asked her. "What made say yes to this, and say no to others, is that I will only do something that I really love. Life is really short, and I want to do things I love because I put my heart into my work. I can't imagine doing something that doesn't have meaning to me," Jacir admitted. "Ramy called me and sent me the script and I laughed out loud and really thought it fresh and funny and very smart -- and I wanted to be a part of it." After Jacir told Youssef that she has her team, "my crew, in Palestine that I always work with and would like to work with them on this, he was OK with all of that and was also very open to talking about things -- just a lovely, lovely collaborator."
Audiences in the Middle East can watch all three seasons of Ramy on OSN+, while the first two seasons are also available for streaming on StarzPlay.