Why French Muslim actress Samia Orosemane says she’s like a UFO
It is no small feat for a French Muslim woman from an underprivileged suburb of Paris to perform on stage, let alone stand-up comedy.
Enter Samia Orosemane.
At the start of her Parisian one-woman show “Femme de Couleurs”, the 37-year-old actress of Tunisian origin takes the stage on a mashup of the themes of “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” Veiled in black from head to toe, she paces threateningly across the dark scene. And then in a whisper from the stage, she says, “I am your mother.” The audience burst out laughing.
“Oh, is that what scares you?” She said pointing to the black veil. “Don’t worry, it’s a convertible.”
Then she removes the veil, revealing her head covered with a turban.
It is Orosemane, who attacks the taboo of the hijab. France bans all religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, in public schools and for some officials. Orosemane wears a colorful turban instead of a hijab – something she says some people disagree with. They tell her that she should be more modest and not show herself.
“I want to tell them, ‘Take care of your own beeswax’. Some people say my turban doesn’t look as good as a real scarf because my earlobes are still visible and it’s too sexy. I want to tell them the same thing a comedian said to me: âOn stage you’re supposed to be naked, how are you going to do that with a scarf on your head? But it’s part of who I am, it’s like telling you I don’t like your haircut. I’m here to make people laugh, not to get caught up in religious discourse. My job is to be a comedian, and right now I think I’m doing my job well.
The day I met her, Orosemane was wearing a salmon pink turban and matching jacket, red lipstick and pink eyeshadow. Dressing her way, she says, is her feminist stance.
In his show, Orosemane makes fun of many accents and stereotypes, from North Africans to the Parisian equivalent of a girl from the valley. It’s biting satire, but it never makes fun of people harshly. Orosemane sees his brand of comedy as an equal opportunity violator, and the public understands it.
âIt’s hard to hang up,â she said. âIn fact, even people in my background don’t understand what’s going on. Since I take it out on everyone, no one knows who I am. I am like a UFO. I am a girl, born in France, of Tunisian parents, dressed like a sub-Saharan woman who lives her life and wears a turban. I make my own choices. I’m not trying to fit into any mold; I’m not trying to please.
Orosemane also makes fun of his own Tunisian culture. At the heart of the show is his long-standing battle with his mother to date a black man, a Frenchman from Martinique who converted to Islam. Orosemane interprets his mother’s reaction when she told him that she wanted to marry him. It is a cry of despair.
Marrying someone who is not North African is considered a no-no by some members of the Orosemane community, even when that person is a Muslim.
âMy mother used to say to me, ‘I would prefer a drunken Arab to a black praying,’â says Orosemane. âIt is a visceral racism that prevails in the Maghreb community, as elsewhere. Everyone is afraid of the other. Addressing this on stage is a way to get people thinking. “
Orosemane’s mother finally gave her blessing to the marriage. On stage, Orosemane boasts of being an unconventional wife to her husband.
âAt home, he does the housework, the shopping, the cooking, and I make a mess,â she says. âWhen I get home, I throw my scarf here, my coat over there and my purse over there, and he says, ‘Samia, respect my job!’â
She goes around the stage quickly then adds softly, with a smile: “It’s so good not to be harnessed to an Arab!”
Then she adds, âTo all the Arab mothers in the audience who are going to be waiting for me outside, please note that I will stop saying this when you start teaching your sons to clean.
It makes him laugh and clap.
In her show, Orosemane aims to make people laugh but she also wants an open mind.
âI try to be as useful as possible. If I can build bridges where there are walls, I am very happy. I will try anyway. If it works, so much the better, if not, I’ll turn to other people.