For some, he was a national hero. For most, he was a terrifying tyrant. And for the past two Sundays, HBO gave us an inside look into the life of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and his family. House of Saddam is a four-part miniseries that can best be described as entertaining to say the least, and that's precisely the problem. Myself being Syrian-American, I was used to hearing the horrific and jaw-dropping stories of Insane Hussein from my Iraqi friends -- and so I watched with the assumption that the movie documentary would leave me disturbed. Instead, I found myself at times sympathizing with the ruthless leader. I decided to venture out and see if I was the only one who felt this way. I thought it would be interesting to get a first-hand account and response to the documentary by Iraqi-Americans who will never forget the impacts of Saddam's rule on their lives. In an effort to be as objective in nature as possible, I spoke with Iraqi-Americans from different walks of life -- Shiites & Sunnis, Young & Old -- all of whom by the way wanted to remain anonymous.
The overall impression of House of Saddam was mixed. Iraqis that liked it said it was a good brief synopsis of Saddam's rule and that the series accurately portrayed the barbaric nature of Saddam and his sons. Many disagreed. One of them said she was very disappointed, "The movie I thought was demeaning in a way that it allows viewers to be sympathetic towards a monster, who killed the spirit of every Iraqi, woman, man, child. He and his horrible siblings kind of looked like good human beings, except in reality they were feeding off the blood of the rest of the country. Shame on them. It certainly does not show what Saddam or his mafia were like." Others also added that Qusay, Saddam's second son, was portrayed as being the good, stable, responsible son. Another Iraqi said Uday "was made to look like a stupid party animal and mentioned they should have done a better job making him look like the khara (means shit in Arabic) he was."
When asked about the accuracy of the movie documentary one of my Iraqi girlfriends wrote, "it's a very short toned down summary of what Saddam and his mafia were like. It certainly does not show how aggressive and demeaning he was to the Iraqi people and how much fear he installed in all their hearts." Another Iraqi friend found the series to be "fairly authentic." He continued by saying: "Of course you can't squeeze all the atrocities Saddam and his henchmen committed in a 3 to 4 hour series like this." Everyone I spoke with seemed to agree that the Saddam Hussein in House of Saddam was definitely the lesser evil of the real dictator. "I think the show made Saddam seem a little more normal in the head than he really was." It was no surprise that most of the Iraqis I spoke with found the movie to be loosely reflective of Saddam's vicious nature. They wanted to see a more intense portrayal of the terror that Saddam inflicted on his people. Only one of the Iraqis that I had spoken with felt that the director was too harsh on Saddam and that he should have been portrayed in a better light.
All my Iraqi friends were very impressed with the casting of the documentary and felt that the directors found an outstanding group to tell the story. Some were annoyed by details such as un-authentic Arabic or Iraqi accents. The most obvious was evident in the accent of the actress who played Saddam's first wife, Sajida. Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo had more of a Farsi accent and sounded more Persian than Arab. Not a surprise since the actress is Persian, but Sajida is not. There is a big difference. If you disagree then click here -- Iranian-American Comedian Maz Jobrani explains the difference between the two accents perfectly! Despite some of these minor inaccuracies, the director, stylists, and make-up artists deserve major praise for their almost dead-on resemblance of each character to the real ones (see slideshow below).
Images courtesy of AP and Imdb
Many Iraqi Americans felt that House of Saddam didn't show enough of the Iraqi civilians and how much they suffered under the sanctions imposed under Saddam's torturous reign. Some also noted that we only got to see small glimpses of the lavish lifestyle and palaces that the Hussein family lived in while most of his people starved and died from malnutrition, tainted water, and by simply being disloyal.
When the Huffington Post interviewed the House of Saddam director Alex Holmes, he did make it clear that this was only one perspective of Saddam Hussein and his family, "This is my version of Saddam. Other people will paint different portraits of him, some of them significantly different, others subtly different, and they will all of them, in their own way, be valid."
Holmes is right -- Everyone that I spoke with was able to relate in one way or another. For some Iraqis, the HBO special brought back memories that will taint their everyday existence... memories of their uncles being executed, their fathers being imprisoned, and their sisters getting raped. Others remembered a strong and prosperous Iraq under Saddam Hussein... a man who defended his country, educated his people, and created hundreds of new jobs.
While the majority of Iraqis are glad Saddam Hussein is gone, many continue to believe that life under the tyrant was much more livable than Iraq's current state of chaos. The continued frustration was just made clear this past week by the now infamous Iraqi journalist who threw both of his shoes at President Bush while yelling "this is a kiss goodbye from the Iraqi people... you dog!" Life in Iraq has become unbearable and conditions are in fact much worse after the US invasion than it was when Saddam was in power.
According to an Oxfam report:
- More than four million Iraqis forced to flee either to another part of Iraq or abroad.
- Four million Iraqis regularly cannot buy enough food.
- 70 percent are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50 percent in 2003.
- 28 percent of children are malnourished, compared to 19 percent before the 2003 invasion.
- 92 percent of Iraqi children suffer learning problems, mostly due to the climate of fear.
House of Saddam gave its viewers an opportunity to reflect on the millions of lives affected by the ruthless Saddam regime. The civilians of Iraq continue to suffer under US occupation without much near term hope, and their frustrations and grievances continue to grow paramount. As the transition of power to President-Elect Obama begins to take effect and our troops eventually withdraw, there is no question that Iraq will have the fight of its life to become a freestanding sovereign country again. No country and no human being can thrive under occupation; be it by a fear-mongering dictator or by a foreign nation. Unfortunately, the innocent are caught in the middle and will be stuck there until Iraq is able to sustain a certain level of peace and democracy.