Baghdad High

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
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Iraqi docu is heartwarming -- and heartbreaking.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series offers a chance to see what it's like to live and go to high school in a war-torn, foreign-occupied country. It avoids Western stereotypes of Iraqis and other Middle Eastern communities. Ali is Kurdish, Anmar is Christian, Hayder is Shi'a, and Mohammad is half Sunni. The boys come from middle-class homes. Mohammad's parents are divorced; he's being raised by a single mother. Young teenage women are not visible.


The boys are in constant fear of getting shot, bombed, kidnapped, arrested, and/or killed as a result of the war. Both Anmar and Ali fear for their lives. Gunshots are constantly heard; military aircraft (American) and soldiers (both Iraqi and American) are sometimes visible. One scene shows two of the boys jokingly acting out a hostage decapitation (with a real knife). Discussions include stories about friends/family who have been hurt or killed in the war or during Saddam Hussein's regime. Burning buildings and other bombing casualties are sometimes shown. Iraqi popular music contains lyrics about bombing, shooting, and killing; Western music also has some violent lyrics. Saddam Hussein's conviction and hanging are discussed.


Anmar has a girlfriend, but they're never seen together; text messages and phone calls between them lead to innocent declarations of love. Some of the American songs the students listen contain some strong sexual innuendo.


Hayder occasionally uses words like "hell," "s--t," and "f--k" when speaking English. Some of the Western songs the students listen to include profanity, as well as the "N"-word (though it's not clear whether the students understand the true meaning of that word). Arabic curse words are occasionally spoken, but they're not usually fully translated in the subtitles.


The young men listen to music by various American artists, including Britney Spears and Tupac Shakur. The boys are sometimes seen wearing clothes with Western logos like Nike, Polo, Adidas, and Batman. But neither the music or the logos are shown in an overtly commercial context.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this eye-opening documentary chronicles the lives of four Iraqi students who attend high school in Baghdad's war zone. No violence is actually shown, but gunfire is often heard, and discussions about bombings, kidnappings, and killings are frequent. There's also contains some occasional profanity ("s--t," "f--k"), some of which comes from the American music the teens listen to. This glimpse of daily life in Iraq is a worthwhile, age-appropriate choice for teens, but it may be too intense for younger or more sensitive viewers.

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What's the story?

BAGHDAD HIGH offers a very personal look at the lives of four young Iraqi men -- Mohammad, Anmar, Hayder, and Ali -- during their final year of secondary school in war-torn Baghdad. Using video cameras at home, in the car, and at Tariq bin Ziad School for Boys, the teen students film themselves hanging out with their friends, spending time with their families, and studying for their compulsory national exams ... all while living with the constant fear of being forcefully evicted from their homes, kidnapped, arrested, injured, and/or killed by bullets or terrorist bombs. They also use their cameras as video diaries, sharing their thoughts about what it's like to be on the verge of adulthood, their goals for their future, and what's happening to their country.

Is it any good?

This autobiographical-style documentary offers viewers a unique opportunity to look at life in Iraq through the eyes of a younger generation whose future is as uncertain as that of their own country. While these middle-class suburban teens think about girls, listen to Western music, text message friends and try to play soccer like David Beckham, their lives are far from carefree. Rising unemployment rates and the inability to plan for the future add to the growing loss of hope that they -- like most of Iraq's youth -- are experiencing. Meanwhile, Ali (who is Kurdish) and Anmar (who is Catholic) live in constant fear of sectarian persecution. And as if all that weren't enough, the boys have to pass their exams and graduate to have any chance of pursuing further education.

Baghdad High is both heartwarming and heartbreaking as it shows these ordinary Iraqi teens and their families trying to live a normal life in a world that seems to be crumbling around them. And it's a refreshing alternative to some of the extremist stereotypes that tend to pop up in the Western media. But most importantly, the movie provides a better understanding of what daily life is like for modern Iraqi teens by looking beyond the political, economic, and social chaos surrounding them and into their minds and hearts. All of this makes it an excellent viewing choice (and discussion starter) for teens and adults, but the intense subject matter, frequent discussion of violence, and strong language make it a bit too intense for younger viewers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they think it's like to be a young person living in a country that's experiencing civil unrest and/or foreign occupation. Teens: How does the life of the boys in this movie compare to your own? Do you relate to anything they're going through? Families can also discuss how the media typically portrays Iraq and the Iraqi people. How has coverage of the war in Iraq impacted Americans' perception of the Iraqi people? Do you think the overall media coverage of events in the Middle East since 9/11 has helped or hurt Americans' overall perceptions of people from that part of the world?

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