‘I am not Latifa’: Meet the first female Saudi superhero

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Fahad Al-Saud, CEO of Na3am and creative director of Latifa.
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Stan Berkowitz, co-writer of Latifa, at Na3am’s booth at Saudi Comic Con. (AN photo by Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Updated 08 April 2017
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‘I am not Latifa’: Meet the first female Saudi superhero

Her name is Latifa (meaning “kind” in Arabic), yet she is ruthless and vindictive, living in a revolting future world.
Latifa, Saudi Arabia’s first female comic superhero, and her dystopian universe are the brainchild of Fahad Al-Saud, CEO and creative director of award-winning gaming and transmedia incubator Na3am (New Arab Media).
“Latifa was born, and it just kind of developed from there. I’m seeing her come to life now. I feel like my child has just graduated from high school,” Al-Saud, who co-writes the comic book with Stan Berkowitz, told Arab News.
“She accepted herself as a warrior and she’s committed, so I wanted her to talk to people who feel there’s a war beside them and are scared to come out.”
Latifa was introduced to audiences at the recent Saudi Comic Con in Jeddah, at which the turnout exceeded expectations.
“The fusion of Marvel and Na3am next to each other (means) you’ve got the outside example and the local example, so it’s a historic moment not just for Saudi and for Comic Con being here, but also for Saudi to receive and welcome its first superhero,” Rozan Ahmed, the editor of Latifa, told Arab News.
Al-Saud said the world of comics accompanied him from his childhood to his adulthood, and he decided to turn his passion into a profession. His favorite superheroes are the X Men, Psylocke and Storm.
The Stanford University graduate majored in mechanical engineering and studied management science, humanities and art history, which set a strong foundation for him. He said it taught him problem-solving skills and made him view the world differently.
“I grew up reading comic books. I learned English from reading comic books,” he said. “In every single comic book or video game with a female character, she has been my favorite. I think that whole experience just turned my hobby into my profession.”
Latifa, with her talking sword, is the first comic from the Saudi Girls Revolution (SGR) universe.
She is illiterate, always questioning her surroundings, and is on a mission to help those who are struggling around her. The concept of justice is strongly highlighted in her story.
Al-Saud said it was important for him to make stories about women that are not centered on a man, but he also wanted to keep a balance.
The sword Al-Faisal is robotic with male energy, and is a metaphor for her father, whom she lost as a child.
“The narrative is essentially about one big prison break. Latifa isn’t in the prison. There are other characters outside the prison who will get to know the people breaking out of the prison,” Berkowitz told Arab News.
“There seems to be an effort in the camp to change women. The women are only brought there if they’re rebellious. They’re delinquent, trouble-makers, free-thinkers and the plan is to make them docile citizens,” said Berkowitz, who also wrote for the “Justice League,” “Batman Beyond” and “Superman.”
For Al-Saud, the prison in the story can be seen from the readers’ perspective as limitations in the community or environment, limitations we impose on ourselves, or our fears. “This is a piece of art, and I’d love for people to interpret it in their way,” he said.
Al-Saud’s use of the word “revolutions” was his way of reclaiming this “buzzword” and giving it a different meaning.
He said the word has been charged with so much negativity, and he wanted to go back to what it actually meant.
It can be “changing something, evolving it into something better and challenging the status quo, but of course not for the sake of pushing back, for the sake of moving forward,” he said.
“The concept of revolution here is: Each girl in her own personal growth is going through a revolution. It’s a spiritual one, an identity one, a political one, a societal one, depending on that girl’s story.”
He added: “The revolution I wanted to start is having us reclaim our own identity, giving an opportunity for Arab women, and Saudi women specifically, who globally have been put into a box of oppression and regression.
“I wanted to change the narrative and rhetoric around women in comics, but also have the ones who are pioneers of change, stories of Saudi women who globally, for the last decade or so, have been seen as oppressed. I wanted to challenge that, so that’s what this revolution is about.”
Latifa’s world is 100 years in the post-apocalyptic future. About five years ago, when the project started, Al-Saud wondered what the world would look like in the future.
“The best way to see something is to imagine it in the future, to push us to an environment that’s completely different but also still similar,” he said.
“The work I’m doing with SGR is a way to creatively solve problems that I feel exist in our world today.”
The project is the result of a collaborative team effort. “The first thing I did was to collaborate with Stan,” Al-Saud said.
“There are people who are more skilled than me. It’s important for this project to reach the quality I intend, to release the ego and bring in experts and collaborate with them throughout the process, which is working out so far.”
The intention is to create something Saudis, Saudi females and global audiences are proud of. “I’m hoping to present audiences with so many options rather than just Latifa (in the future),” he added.
Saudi Comic Con also saw the newly launched Bedouin Blade game mobile phone app. “It’s Latifa’s first video game, and we’re also looking at a feature film,” said Ahmed.


Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

Updated 19 February 2019
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Keira Knightley film calls for unity in divided times

  • The film is set during the reconstruction of post WWII Germany
  • The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943

LONDON: Keira Knightley said her new film “The Aftermath,” set in the bombed-out ruins of Hamburg just after the end of the Second World War, had important lessons on building bridges that were very relevant for today’s divided societies.
The romantic drama sees Knightley play Rachael Morgan, who moves to Germany to be with her husband, a British colonel who has a leading role in the reconstruction effort in Hamburg. They move in with a German widower and his troubled daughter.
Her co-stars, Australian Jason Clarke who plays her husband Lewis and Swedish Alexander Skarsgard, who plays a German architect also attended the world premiere at London’s Picturehouse Central on Monday.
“It’s very relevant for now. It’s about building bridges, it’s about how we see each other as human beings and we don’t demonize each other and that’s obviously something that we need to do right now,” Knightley said.
The port city of Hamburg suffered a devastating bombing raid by the Allied forces in July 1943, known as “Operation Gomorrah,” that killed some 40,000 people and caused the destruction of swathes of the city.
“I knew nothing about the rebuilding of Germany ... I haven’t thought about how unbelievably difficult it must have been to not only physically rebuild these places but also mentally for English and German people ... who had been enemies, who had literally killed each other for six years, to suddenly forgive and move forward,” Knightley said.
Clarke said: “We’ve benefited so much from the Lewis Morgans who put Europe together ... guys like him built it up and made Germany and Europe what it is today, we all stand on the threshold of wanting to tear it down.”
“The Aftermath” opens in cinemas in Britain on March 1, and in the United States on March 15.