When former rapper Anas (Anas Basbousi) decides to teach children attending the Positive School arts centre how to rap, he helps to provide them with an outlet to express their frustrations with their home lives as well as with religion and societal expectations. However, when he also faces opposition from some of the more conservative parents, his aims are placed in jeopardy.
Writer/ director Ayouch, along with fellow writer Maryam Touzani, uses the students’ individual home lives and their respective verses to effectively illustrate and criticise the social and economic issues facing young Moroccans. From religious restrictions to sexism, poverty and toxic masculinity, the young people concerned pour out their emotions in their rapping, which encompass humour, tragedy and anger, sometimes at the same time. Ayouch wisely avoids cutting away from the students too much during their raps, allowing them to express their full range of emotions. In addition, segments of their individual home lives are shown that help to provide greater insight into their respective struggles, which also skilfully incorporate full-fledged musical numbers that show how the students use rapping to channel their frustrations.
Basbousi also provides a subtly impressive performance, capturing not only Anas’s drive to get the kids to become more aware of the societal injustices around them, but also his personal anger and frustration which erupts at pivotal moments in the narrative and hints at past troubles. Ayouch and Touzani wisely avoid giving too much backstory to Anas, conveying his issues in a more subtle manner through his dialogue with his class and fellow teachers. The non-professional actors playing the students also impress, providing energetic, witty and passionate performances that feel naturalistic.
However, the final act feels somewhat rushed, with the narrative arcs being resolved somewhat abruptly with little conflict once the climactic concert takes place. Whilst it may be cliched to suggest that there be more of a clash between Anas and his fellow teachers as well as his students, it would provide a greater nuance and insight into their respective relationships as well as adding more depth to the narrative.
This issue aside, Casablanca Beats is a funny, compelling yet moving story of how hip-hop can inspire young people to confront political, social and personal issues that avoids pushing for easy sentiment.
Screening at select cinemas nationwide