May 16, 2003 was an unforgettable day for most Moroccans as they watched TV footage of suicide bombings in Casablanca. From 1956 to the end of the twentieth century, under the rule of King Hassan II, Morocco experienced long episodes of political violence and repression of the left and all political forces which advocated democratic change and social equality. Yet the Casablanca terrorist attacks were the first of their kind in a country that had been living through the general peace and optimism that characterized the first years of the reign of Mohamed VI, Hassan II's son.
The young monarch Mohamed VI came to power in 1999 and immediately launched various social and economic policies to transform the country and lift the majority of Moroccans out of poverty and widespread illiteracy, especially women. Mohamed VI travelled up and down the country and promised a new era following Morocco's difficult and turbulent post-independence history. Moroccans seemed to believe in the new king's promise for change. The first four years of his rule were marked by increasing economic growth, political openness, and recognition of the country's Amazigh roots and cultural diversity.
During this period, Moroccan cinema sensed the winds of change and started exploring the recent history of the country, as well as its present condition. The violent past was scrutinized through films chronicling the suffering of individuals and entire communities during what has come to be called the Years of Lead (1956-1990s). The Moroccan state ardently supported this new wave of films through a subsidy system administered by its national film board, the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM). Remarkable films made during this period include A Thousand Months (Faouzi Bensaïdi, 2003), Dry No More (Narjiss Nejjar, 2003) and Jawhara, the Jailgirl (Saâd Chraïbi, 2003).
Moroccan cinema was also able to chronicle the country's rapid social transformations, as the consequences of neoliberal market reforms first introduced in the 1980s began to affect and transform all aspects of Moroccan social and political life. Landmark films such as Ali Zaoua (Nabil Ayouch, 2000) and Casablanca by Night (Mostapha Derkaoui, 2003) explored the dark side of Morocco's neoliberal transformation.
Essay by Dr. Jamal Bahmad
Assistant Professor, English Language and Literature
Mohammed V University, Morocco of Leeds
Guest Curator, Filmatique