Learning Arabic is hard, particularly if you’re not living in a Middle Eastern country where you can be immersed in the language and culture all the time. Yet the beauty of our modern, connected world is that we now have access to the Arabic language media, along with movies and TV series from across the Arab World.
Watching films and box-sets in Arabic – with or without subtitles – can be a brilliant way to improve your listening skills and to familiarise yourself with the Arabic language. Not to mention, it’s a LOT more fun than poring over grammar books or ploughing through lists of vocabulary. The following list of Arabic movies and TV shows from the across the Middle East features a range of different dialects and will help you start improving your Arabic from your couch!
Themes: poverty, social justice, Lebanon
Capernaum is the heart-wrenching story of Zain, a plucky child living in the slums of Beirut, as he seeks to sue his parents for neglect and develops an unlikely friendship with an Ethiopian refugee and her baby son. The film, directed by Nadine Labaki and starring amateur actors whose lives closely mirrored their characters’, was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 91st Academy Awards.
Barakah Meets Barakah, 2016
Themes: social issues, Saudi Arabia, comedy
Barakah Meets Barakah is a sweet love story that uses humour to navigate the struggles faced by a young couple falling in love in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah. The film is a poignant reflection of the many paradoxes and contradictions that arise as the socially conservative Saudi Kingdom continues to undergo modernisation and increasingly opens up to the outside world.
Sand Storm, 2016
Dialect: Bedouin / Palestinian
Themes: feminism, social issues
Sand Storm is a powerful story of patriarchy and female struggle set in a conservative Bedouin community in Israel. The film follows the life of Jalila, who must adjust after her husband, Suleiman, takes a second wife. Directed by Elite Zexer, the film was the 2016 winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival.
For Sama, 2019
Themes: conflict, displacement, resilience
BAFTA-winning feature documentary For Sama tells the moving story of Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab, who filmed her life in rebel-held Aleppo over five years of the Syrian civil war. Waad and her husband, Hamza, one of the few remaining doctors in Aleppo, bravely remained through the siege of their home city, treating the wounded while raising their daughter Sama, for whom the film is named.
Themes: women’s rights, social issues, Saudi Arabia
Wadjda follows the story of a 10-year-old Saudi girl of the same name who’s determined to buy a bicycle so she can beat her friend – a boy – in a race. The first film to be directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia, Wadjda became famous for breaking taboos and challenging social norms in the Kingdom. Director Haifa al-Mansour had to direct parts of the film from inside a van in order to avoid being seen defying strict regulations about men and women working together.
Themes: politics and security, US occupation of Iraq
Baghdad Central is set during the US occupation of Iraq and follows the story of an Iraqi police investigator whose daughter disappears. It has been widely praised for its honest portrayal of what life was like for ordinary Iraqis during the civil war and occupation. Essential watching in particular for Americans and Europeans, as it challenges many of the dominant western media narratives of Iraq that were prevalent at the time, some of which continue unabated today.
Themes: Palestinian/Israeli conflict, politics and security
Fauda is an Israeli drama directed by, and drawing on the personal experiences of Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz (who also stars as one of the main characters). It follows a secret counterterrorism unit within the IDF seeking to dismantle Hamas terrorist plots. The series has been met with controversy in the region: while some have defended the show, arguing that it portrays the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that emphasises their shared humanity, others have criticised it for being ill-informed and inciting hatred of Palestinians. The dialogue takes place in a combination of Hebrew and Arabic – so love it or hate it, it’s a useful resource if you’re trying to learn Palestinian Arabic.
Six Windows in the Desert
Themes: social issues, Saudi society, modernisation
Six Windows in the Desert is a series consisting of six short films by Saudi filmmakers which explore the complexities and nuances of Saudi culture and society. The series delves into controversial and sometimes taboo issues including religion, domestic workers’ rights and the situation of women in the kingdom.
Themes: conflict, crime, Lebanese politics and society
Al-Hayba is a Lebanese drama series following events in a village near the Syrian border, exploring issues such as intra-clan rivalry, cross-border conflict and crime. Originally released as a Ramadan soap, if you’re looking for something dramatic and entertaining this ticks all the right boxes.
Themes: supernatural, teen drama
Jinn is a Jordanian drama/thriller series centred around a group of teens who, after taking a school trip to Petra, find their lives disrupted by a supernatural presence threatening to destroy the world. Jinn has received some criticism: Middle East Eye slammed the show for its script and acting, while some conservative figures in Jordan wanted to censor the show for its perceived ‘immoral content’. But if you’re looking for some easy watching or you want to familiarise yourself with the Jordanian dialect, it does the job!
Did we miss anything?! If you have any other movie or series suggestions, we’d love to hear them! Leave us a comment below and let us know.
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