Two Arab women are sitting on a couch talking with one another. One of them curly brown hair, is wearing a gold necklace and red dress and black tights is speaking, using her hands. The other woman is wearing a pink, grey, white and blue hijab, in a blue jean jacket and black dress is sitting next to her listening and smiling.
A still from the film Arab Women Say What?!, featuring conversations with Arab women and their unique experiences living in Canada. (Photo courtesy of the NFB)

Topics: Spirituality | Culture

Home Away from Home

Arab Canadian women share laughter and meaningful conversation in candid new documentary


Arab Women Say What?! begins in an airport. Nermeen, a young Egyptian Canadian woman living in Edmonton, is waiting for her flight back home to Cairo.

Going home is bittersweet for Nermeen. The joy of seeing her loved ones is always in tension with the sorrow of having to leave them again. “Every time I go, I’m reminded [of] what I miss,” she says in the documentary. “What I miss and what I’ve missed out on.” 

Still, Nermeen has found solace in her friendship with a group of Arab women in Edmonton, bonding with them through similar cultural experiences and a love of food and art. The film shows the eight women navigating Zoom calls at the height of the pandemic and later coming together in person for a sunset meal during Ramadan. 

Egyptian Canadian director Nisreen Baker takes the same intimate approach as she did in her previous documentary, Things Arab Men Say, letting informal conversations guide the narrative. 

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The women discuss significant topics, including flawed media portrayals of Arab populations, western depictions of the eastern world and cultural belonging. They mention how Arab women are often grouped as figures of oppression — either helpless or exotic — especially when Islam is involved. “Society wants to put people in ready-made boxes and move on,” says Carmen, an Egyptian Canadian IT manager who wears a hijab. 

Many of these women have lived through political, social and emotional hardships. Some of them turned to art to cope with the tragedy.

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Aya, a Syrian Canadian musician, started writing songs inspired by the war in Syria. “When everybody was fighting, using real weapons, I was using my instrument as a weapon,” she says. Throughout the film, Aya plays music on her oud, a lute-type instrument prominent in Islamic music. 

Arab Women Say What?! does a splendid job of bringing the audience into these women’s lives, allowing us to feel the comfort and camaraderie they’ve cultivated. One can almost feel the warm hugs shown on screen. 

The film can be streamed for free on


Madeline Liao is a recent Broadview intern.

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