Jay Jonroy is the writer, director, and producer of a new film, David & Layla, which draws upon the theme of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet in which young people defy the opposition of their families and marry. But it takes place in present-day Brooklyn and is a comedy rather than a tragedy. Based on a true story, the film is the tale of a stereotypical Jewish New Yorker named David and a Kurdish Muslim refugee, Layla, who, despite ethnic and religious differences and the objections of their families, pursue love and understanding.
Through the medium of romantic comedy, the film brings up issues such as the serious problems faced by Kurds and other minority groups in the Middle East, as well as the tensions between Jews and Muslims.
The Kurds are the largest nationality in the world without a state to call their own. Many live in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Armenia. The film David & Layla touches upon the cruelty that Kurds have suffered at the hand of Saddam Hussein and members of the Ba’ath Party. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, director Jay Jonroy, a Kurdish refugee from Iraq like his character Layla, describes what his own family has suffered. His younger brother and brother-in-law were both kidnapped and their remains were later found in mass graves. Many of his relatives are refugees in other countries. Mr. Jonroy says that, despite these hardships, “there was always love and comedy.” And he felt that, “instead of making a heavy drama film, perhaps the world needed a love story that was also a romantic comedy.”
Making a film that examines the suffering of the Kurds was not only personally meaningful for Jay Jonroy, but he wanted people to understand the historical context. As he says, “Everybody knows about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but 9,000 [Kurdish] villages were destroyed between Turkey and Iraq – and the world is not much aware of it.” Shiva Rose, the actress who plays Layla, agrees that the plight of the Kurds is “a good thing for people to become aware of” because more attention has been focused on other groups, even though the Kurds number between 30 and 40 million people.
Another important element of the film is its raising of subjects that are usually considered “taboo,” such as drinking wine, which is forbidden to Muslims. Filmmaker Jay Jonroy says that, because of his portrayal of Layla as very modern and independent young woman who departs from some of the values of her very conservative aunt and uncle, many traditionalists do not want the film to be shown in Islamic or Arab countries. But Mr. Jonroy says he hopes that “on satellite TV, it will have a life.” He suggests that the way women are treated in much of the Muslim world is “unfair and backward.” And he poses the question: How can a society progress when half of its members are unable to express themselves?
Beneath the politics, Jay Jonroy says his David & Layla is a variation on an age-old story “in another epoch, in another country.” He says the film carries a message of “tolerance for each other and our differences,” and he believes that “from this impossible, unlikely romance there can be hope for love and peace.” In fact, in the film David and Layla’s families do come to an appreciation of each other’s traditions and culture. Mr. Jonroy says he would like the film to be a “ray of light” that signals it is “possible for those in the Middle East to forgive each other and learn to live together.”
David & Layla has been shown in several international film festivals. The film opens to the general public later this month. Visit www.davidandlayla.com to obtain a list of opening dates and cities, which are being added every week.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.