Challenge on Wheels: A Multimodal Analysis of the Discourse of the Syrian Refugee Nujeen Mustafa


  • Dr Dalia M. Hamed
  • Dr Maha Al-Harthi
  • Dr Hala J. Alshahrani
  • Dr Waleed Samir Ali
  • Prof. Wesam M.A. Ibrahim


Beginning in 2014, the 16-year-old Syrian female refugee Nujeen Mustafa fled war-torn Syria to travel to Europe and finally resettle in Germany in 2016. Nujeen was born with Cerebral Palsy, a life-long disorder that affects the ability to move and communicate. This neurological condition makes a person unable to maintain balance. Being a disabled refugee, Nujeen travelled through her 3.500-mile journey in a wheelchair pushed by her sister, Nasrine. The National Geographic Channel produced a short film[1] summarizing Nujeen’s incredible journey. In this film, Nujeen narrates her inspiring story which is meant to have an impact on all people, whether able or disabled, refugees or citizens. This paper analyzes Nujeen’s discourses, verbal (both spoken and written) and visual, as presented in the film. It assumes that filmic communicative messages can be best interpreted through a multimodal analysis of the verbal (spoken and written) and semiotic discourse elements. It employs Kress and Van Leeuwen’s grammar of visual communication (1996, 2001, 2006) to decode the messages encoded in the film discourse. The analysis concludes that a multimodal functional analysis of filmic discourse provides a rich account of the filmic communicative meaning. Films are popular communicative instruments due to their effectiveness in employing both the verbal and visual modes of telecommunication. As a result, Nujeen became the first disabled person to brief the United Nations Security Council. This analysis attempts to spotlight an underprivileged female refugee who defied disability and war to become an icon of human endurance and persistence.