‘Take Care of Zizi’ (TV Series, directed by Karim El Shennawy, Egypt, 2021)
Mariam Naoum, Mona El Shimi and Magdy Amin (TV script writers) in conversation with Khalid Ali, film, and media correspondent
In the critically acclaimed Arab TV series ‘Take Care of Zizi’,. Zizi (Amina Khalil) is a young woman whose marriage to Hisham (Aly Sadigh) is falling apart after several unsuccessful attempts at IVF. Zizi’s heated temper and impulsive behaviour escalate the tension between the married couple resulting in them fighting a bitter divorce settlement in court. Zizi’s lawyer Mourad (Mohammed Mamdouh) advices Zizi to undertake therapy sessions with a consultant psychiatrist Dr Sami (Sabri Fawaz) to calm her fiery temper during the court hearings. Through the therapy sessions, Zizi is diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a therapeutic intervention, Dr Sami recommends that Zizi mentors a young girl Attiyat/ Tito (Reem Abdel Ghader) with ADHD. A journey of self-discovery follows not only for Zizi, but for most of those around her. Several contemporary sub-plots explore bullying, dysfunctional families, and marital conflict.
The series gained wide acclaim from individuals with ADHD, parents of ADHD children, or specialists, but also by the public. Mariam Naoum explains why: ‘’We believe the series resonated with a broad audience because the core theme of “Incompetence” is very relatable. The story of Zizi and Tito trying and failing and constantly feeling not ‘good enough’ reflects a universal human struggle. Feedback from ADHD communities reassured us the series portrayal of ADHD was accurate. Somehow it validated the authenticity of the series, and for many people it “normalized” ADHD and its diagnosis in general’’.
Reflecting on the reasons why the writing team focused on ADHD in children and late diagnosis in adults, Mona El Shimi adds: ‘’I (Mona) am a case of late diagnosis of ADHD, predominantly the inattentive/impulsive type. I happened to find that out through my work as a school psychologist while working with children like Tito. Such encounters with children with ADHD in a professional capacity led me to dig deeper in ADHD research and seek psychometric assessment for myself leading to my diagnosis. This revelation explained a lot of mysteries that preoccupied my mind since childhood. I was then able to identify adult cases as a clinical psychologist. A common theme seemed to emerge from affected individuals, especially adults, and that was been mislabelled all their lives as “lazy”, “incompetent”, or “different”. I think the series addressed a collective wound that needed to be spoken up about and healed’’.
‘Take care of Zizi’ was a labour of love for its makers with extensive background research. Mona El Shimi elaborates further: ‘’The research was already prepared years ago, as I (Mona) had always wanted to do something about ADHD. With my accumulated knowledge, training, reading, and work experience, I initially designed a workshop for adults with ADHD, but that did not follow through. I then attempted to design a video game for ADHD children, but failed to sustain my commitment. However, little did I know that this was all homework for ‘Zizi’. So, the moment the idea emerged as a potential script, my research was there and ready’’.
The series deals with many aspects of childhood trauma such as bullying. Talking about the psychological impact of bullying on children and parents, Mariam Naoum comments: ‘’As a creative artist I have been bullied before. Most of the incidents were isolated ones, but I had an ongoing experience with a specific person who intentionally undermined me in public events, and on social media. First, I did not recognize that behaviour as bullying. However, when it kept happening, I saw the pattern and recognized it as ‘bullying’. Sometimes I wonder if it was born out of misogyny; maybe the fact that I am one of a few Arab female screenwriters amongst mainly male writers, or maybe it is a response to my relatively liberal and progressive ideas. As a mother, my son never had an issue with bullying. At my son’s school, I was never bullied by other parents. However, I am aware that there is often conflict in parental groups among school communities and sports clubs’’.
On the authentic portrayal of school life, children, and teachers’ dynamics, Magdy Amin comments: ‘’My experience as a teacher helped me in knowing the language children use making sure the dialogue feels real. My educational background also helped me understand what bullying means and how children feel about it. And finally, emotions children have about academics can be complex and wounding. As a Math teacher I know that Math is a subject that traumatizes many and I made a point to use common Math mistakes and confusions in Tito’s school scenes’’.
‘Take care of Zizi’ goes beyond presenting exclusively ADHD challenges; it also shows innovative methods of managing ADHD; the ‘Steps’ idea was a mixture of ‘sports, fun, and educational intervention with embedded rewards for ADHD children’. Mona explains: ‘’The Steps institution and method is fictional. However, it is based on “High-interest, low-interest theory” in ADHD (Greg Crosby & Tonia Kippert’s Transforming ADHD: Simple Effective Skills to Help you Focus and Succeed, New Harbinger Publications, 2017). The theory states that combining a high interest task with a low interest task for ADHD cases ensures that their minds are switched on and focused, fuelled by dopamine produced by high-interest task. Thus, Zizi combined martial arts with studying for Tito in her project “Kickstarter.” I (Mona) learned this theory when I attended Greg Crosby’s workshops in Egypt in 2016 as part of the Egyptian Association for Group Therapies conference. Greg for me is the ADHD whisperer; his theory made more sense than anything. I applied his theories in my personal life and my professional practice with ADHD clients. I wanted to share Greg Crosby’s teaching with as wide an audience as possible’’.
El Shimi concludes: ‘’Beyond ADHD ‘Take care of Zizi’ is an invitation to reconsider our perspectives on differences, revise the assumptions and judgments we take for granted about ourselves and others, and reconsider what we see as “normal” both in terms of human character and human brains. Collectively we need to be more aware of and work harder in discovering ourselves and others’’.