Before the boys came along, I hadn’t really paid that much attention to the context or scripts of children’s movies. In my head, Disney kind of guaranteed kiddy friendly films and Pixar was more parental guidance. Ha! It has amazed me how many films we’ve found inappropriate or just unsuitable for a variety of different reasons. Many of these family favourite movies – most of which I loved myself as a kid – glamorise colonisation and the subjugation of the original natives, are overtly sexual, infuriatingly misogynistic and condescending to women in general, or are based around topics that may be more complex to explain when we put them in an islamic context. In short, choosing movies for the boys to watch is a lot more complicated that I ever thought it would be. We like movies though, and not just for chill out purposes; often a well thought out film can be the starting point for many interesting questions/conversations. G makes a mean popcorn and we often curl up as a family on the corner seat we built for our first Istanbul flat that holds the four of us so comfortably, grab a cosy blanket and settle for a film; and when I need to get something done or just need some time out, the boys curl up to watch something together. Sure, I’d prefer it if they’d settle to something more constructive, but moving images on a screen (almost) guarantee they will stay where they are, and sometimes that’s the important part of that activity slot.
They currently really enjoy the whimsy of Arthur and the Invisibles. The idea of other worlds mingled with our own fascinates them, and as we spent a long time at the start of the summer studying ants, bees and insects in their habitats, it’s a concept that not only makes sense but is fantastically believable. Yet even this innocent film about a boy who shrinks down to Minimoy size in order to rescue his Grandfather and save his Grandmother from financial ruin by recovering the hidden rubies in the garden, the film contains so many scenes I question if the boys should be watching. From sexual innuendos in conversation to alcohol and nightclub scenes, I’m sure many Muslim parents would choose not to show this film, but as our kids are so sheltered in this culturally protected bubble that the innuendos mean nothing to them and they have no concept of alcohol or its effects, to my way of thinking the bubbling green shots of fiery liquid are simply Arthur’s equivalent of Enid Blyton’s Google Buns and watching films like this with soft references to lifestyle choices we don’t choose, or topics we haven’t yet introduced makes perfect sense to me: There’s a fine line between normalising behaviours Islam warns against and teaching children to be critical of others choices. We might opt not to watch ‘Babe’ because we wouldn’t want pig-as-pet requests, but hiding the world outside of our interpretation of how to live in it isn’t going to teach these kids anything – rather that’s setting them up to fail. If you want tolerance yourselves, you have to give tolerance back and that starts by not being taught any judgement, while acknowledging that everyone’s different. Films and TV shows are a great resource for this, especially when we’re kind of cut off from both of the cultures we live by. I think we’ve found a decent balance. The kids will watch programmes – anything from Mickey’s Clubhouse to I Can Cook – and although they let out an exagerated “ewwwww!” most of the time, are unbothered by the appearance of a pig or a pork sandwich. This to me is balance; we teach them that as Muslims we don’t eat pork, explain the scientific reasoning to back up the idea that pigs are an unclean animal, but don’t go as far as referring to the creature as “dirty animal” (as the Turkish reference often does) or pretending it doesn’t exist (as here where farmyard cartoons omit the pig from the scene). Tolerance and understanding that others live in different ways is vital to how we bring up our children.
The other day M asked me if “by the grace of God” meant bismillah – partly because he was delighted to learn that Arthur called on Allah too, and partly because he is at the age where he wants direct translations for everything and figuring out the English for the Turkish (or Arabic) and vice versa is kind of a fun little game. He and T both soak up language like sponges, and they’re starting to experiment with its usage. One of their favourite current games is winding up mummy using the American pronunciation of “water” anytime they hear Katara* speak or slipping a suffix when speaking Turkish. They know and find it funny that sloppy speech will get them a tickle or a glare which in turn enhances the fun of playing with words. They mix their languages and choose their feelings in the tongue that reflects it most. Like prayers, some things just feel more natural expressed in the language of our book and both our usage of English and Turkish is highlighted with Arabic terms. There is nothing more magic than listening to the gaggle of words that makes no sense to anyone listening in, that speaks just the language of my heart, encompassing all of it, from element-benders to lokma, Jumping Jacks, Ruff and yes, Allah swt in all of it. And if Arthur and friends can help normalise this religious term usage for our little ones, then all the more reason for popcorn.
This Eid we soaked up the last days of summer’s hot heat, rejoiced in time out as a family and introduced the boys to ET ( fast forwarding through the initial family round the table conversation because, seriously boys, talk nice!) After all, God made the universe as well as the world, only He knows what else is truly out there.
(*Avatar – cartoon fave of all time)
(**seriously boys! be nice to one another!)