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The dangers of being a cartoonist in the Middle East

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the old saying goes and cartoonists have, for thousands of years, used art as satire, to speak out about what’s wrong with society. By definition, the work discusses, and even ridicules, the hot, current and controversial subjects of the day to draw attention to important issues and provoke dialogue. The objective may simply be to illustrate the funny side of a story or, of course, to precipitate change and make a difference. Because of that potential power and influence, many countries impose strict limits on the topics they allow cartoonists to address, topping the taboo list are politics, religion and sex.

It is not simply because of unwritten rules of local morality that comic illustrators are required to steer clear of cartoons depicting certain subjects if they don’t want to be thrown in jail or get killed by zealous extremists. Not everywhere enjoys freedom of speech as a guaranteed right and in such places, the cost of a simple satirical sketch can even be life itself. In some parts of the world, the job means a constant battle between an artist’s convictions and desire to live.

RT Doc visits Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan to meet local cartoonists and explore how satirists ply their trade against a backdrop of harsh government censorship and death threats from religious fanatics. The film examines the boundaries within which cartoonists often have to work. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we ask the cartoonists about their attitudes to their French colleagues’ work and the tragedy that killed them. Our contributors also discuss why the magazine’s cartoons caused such fatal controversy.

What do you think?

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