One True Story, Two Versions Told
By Allie Waxman
The creators of Our Boys — Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, Tawfik Abu Wael — were joined by Keshet’s Avi Nir and actor Shlomi Elkabetz in a discussion about what it took to tell a nuanced and controversial story.
At a screening of the first episode of Our Boys hosted by the New York Times, the series creators leaned into the controversial subject matter and offered explanations for how they authentically told two equally true, but different versions of the same story. Our Boys, which brings to life the true events in the summer of 2014 that led to the outbreak of war in Gaza, has three co-creators. Joseph Cedar directed the Israeli perspective of the events and Tawfik Abu Wael wrote and directed the Palestinian point of view. Hagai Levi is the showrunner. The murders shook Israelis and Palestinians alike and are still a raw subject in the Middle East. The creation of Our Boys wasn’t without disagreement, but embodied a spirit of collaboration and a quest for the most authentic telling of events.
In Israel, everyone remembers where they were when news of the kidnappings broke.
The kidnappings in the summer of 2014 were a pivotal moment in the history of Israel; everyone on the stage remembered exactly where they were when the news broke. Cedar remarked that there was an overwhelming “sense that something bad got worse...and then got even worse. A fear that our reality [was] unraveling.” The loss of control was felt deeply on both sides of the conflict. Abu Wael added that he “felt like life [would] not come back the same.” Usually, he remarked, the conflict is political. This time, “it’s a hateness (sic). You can’t control it.”
Understanding the perpetrators was of greater creative interest.
Cedar emphasized the importance of striving to understand the perpetrators on the Israeli side of the story. “Dramatically and politically understanding the aggression is crucial. Understanding the victimhood is easier. It’s easier to sympathize automatically with characters that are feeling pain. Focusing on the victimhood would create more acts of revenge. Focusing on the aggression speaks to trying to stop it.”
“Two Jews, four opinions. Two Jews and a Palestinian? Forty opinions.”
While the co-creators were true collaborators on set, there was no shortage of conflict. “The three of us fought a lot,” admitted Levi. Elkabetz thinks those conflicts were an essential part of the process. “Watching them work, listening to the arguments and disagreements,” the actor recalled, “I can see how those conflicts contributed to the way the series is today.” Abu Wael said he had to reinvent himself throughout the process: “I need to realize I don’t control everything. We had the patience to listen to each other... Everything stayed on the field.” While each side made compromises, they both had an unwavering commitment to the truth. “We felt a responsibility to represent a narrative we believed was true,” added Cedar. “These narratives are not the same. What the audience will get is two separate stories around the same event.”