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The Poetess review – Saudi poet's reality TV breakthrough … and backlash


This entertaining documentary about Hissa Hilal, the first female finalist on the wildly popular Million’s Poet, reflects on her dazzling smackdown and the death threats that followed

Talk about a tough audience. The first time female Saudi poet Hissa Hilal walked into a TV studio to perform live, she saw a sea of men glaring back at her stony-faced, arms crossed in sulky disapproval. Or that’s what she would have seen, had the burka she was wearing not made it impossible to see. Hilal nearly toppled off the stage after delivering a dazzling smackdown of men who “collect” and discard wives. For subsequent appearances she switched to a niqab.

In 2010, Hilal made headlines as the first female finalist on Million’s Poet, a wildly popular reality TV contest now watched by 75 million people in the Middle East that is a hybrid of Britain’s Got Talent and an open mic night. Her politically charged lyrics and fearless performances were impossible to ignore. Hilal received death threats with a poem attacking fatwas issued by ultra-conservative clerics. “Would anyone give me her address?” one user posted on an extremist website.

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