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.
Saudi poetess Hissa Hilal made headlines around the world as the first woman to reach the finals of the Arab world’s biggest televised poetry competition, “Million’s Poet.” The Poetess is the inspiring story of a woman risking her personal safety and seizing an opportunity, live on TV in front of 75 million viewers, to use her wit and lyricism to critique patriarchal society and religious extremism and to urge for a more peaceful Islam.