Saudi YouTube star Hatoon Kadi spotlights social issues

Saudi YouTube star Hatoon Kadi has more than 350,000 subscribers on her channel. (Photo courtesy: YouTube/ Noon Alniswa)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Saudi YouTube star Hatoon Kadi spotlights social issues

DUBAI: It has been a year of significant social change in Saudi Arabia and everyone is sitting up and paying attention.
“The changes we’ve experienced this year alone are equivalent to changes that take maybe 10 or 20 years in other societies. We’ve been waiting for these decisions for so long,” said Saudi YouTube star Hatoon Kadi, speaking on the sidelines of VIDXB — a gathering dedicated to online video content held in Dubai on Dec. 8 and 9.
While it might be a stretch to claim that Kadi and online content creators like her from the Kingdom are directly responsible for any of the monumental changes witnessed in Saudi Arabia this year — Kadi herself certainly would not make that claim — it is fair to say that the surge in popularity of Arabic-language content has given a public voice to those who, traditionally, have not had one. And in doing so, important social issues have been brought into the spotlight.
Take, for example, Kadi’s own 2013 video about women driving in the Kingdom. “I had a slogan in that video — ‘the most important man in a Saudi woman’s life is her driver,’” Kadi told Arab News. It was a lighthearted way of making a serious point, which is Kadi’s general approach on her wildly popular Noon Alniswa channel that has more than 350,000 subscribers.
“Usually, when you make people laugh about things, their sub-conscious mind will be analyzing this: ‘OK, I laughed about this, but there’s something to it, maybe something we need to change or look differently at.’ So sarcasm and comedy are accepted by people because usually they’re not judgmental, because people really hate it when other people preach at them,” Kadi explained. “So when you’re just talking about the issue and you make them laugh about it, they’ll accept it more.”
Importantly, Kadi pointed out, when she started making videos, she did so “by laughing at the things I do.”
It was a point she made onstage at VIDXB too, she was not creating content to make herself seem more important, or smarter, than the average person. She was highlighting issues that affected her and — by extension — the society in which she lives. “I always thought to myself, ‘what is society?’ And it’s us. It’s people,” she said.
She admitted that seeing a clearly conservative (by her own admission) Saudi woman poking fun at herself was seen as “strange” when she started out. But, she added, “people accepted it in the end.
“We’re always afraid of introducing new concepts,” she said. “And a lot of people say that GCC society will not accept this. But I know my limits — they’ve been shaped by my religion and my conservative upbringing — so why not set our own rules? And why not laugh about ourselves?”
Kadi was quick to stress that she is not suggesting everybody embrace anarchy or ignore traditions. She is simply saying that it is OK to question things and not blindly follow the norm.
“Our society is very conservative. We feel we’re obliged to be like each other. That’s just how we were brought up. So if a woman is very conservative and she cares about what other people think, I will not tell her, ‘you are wrong.’ You just belong to a society where it takes a lot of courage to be different,” she explained. “So, I really respect if someone just wants to stick (to what they know).”
Kadi has firsthand experience of the courage needed to speak up in a conservative society: “I had lots of comments saying things like, ‘you are very ugly. You are very fat. How dare you? You don’t have a mirror? Why do we have to look at you?’ When you hear such comments that really criticize the core of your femininity, you want to believe that you don’t care, but that’s wishful thinking. It really hurts.”

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Kadi admits there were times when she nearly quit making videos. But advice and support from friends convinced her to keep going. “And you know, after all these years, I look back at my show and I see it was worth fighting for,” she said. “I have created my own way. I’m happy. I’m comfortable with myself. I’ve tried to focus on what I’m really good at. These days I care what other people say about my content, but not about the way I look.”
And recently, of course, “I had the pleasure of making another video after the decision that allowed us to drive that said ‘real Saudi men can now acquire the long-awaited position as the most important man in your wife’s, or your sister’s, or your mother’s life. It’s not the driver anymore.’”
Triumphs like that make it all worthwhile for Kadi.
“I’ll never be able to know if I had any real impact. But I know that I did what I had to do. And I have other episodes for other women’s issues, or social issues, and I’ll be waiting for those decisions too. And I’ll be happy that I did my bit,” she said. “At least I know that when I had the voice, I used it for the good of my society.”


Natalie Portman backs out of Jewish prize over ‘recent events’ in Israel

Updated 20 April 2018
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Natalie Portman backs out of Jewish prize over ‘recent events’ in Israel

  • The Genesis prize, launched in 2013, is awarded to “extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews.”
  • Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev accused Portman of subscribing to the ideology of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that promotes sanctions on the Jewish state.

Jerusalem: Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman has canceled her participation in a Jerusalem ceremony where she was to receive a $2 million (1.6 million euro) prize, saying she was troubled by “recent events” in Israel, organizers said.
The Genesis prize, launched in 2013, is awarded to “extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews,” according to their website.
Recipients contribute their winnings to causes of their choice.
The prize foundation was informed by one of Portman’s representatives that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” it said in a statement late Thursday.
The US-Israeli actress, an Academy award winner, “cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony,” Genesis was informed, forcing them to cancel the ceremony set for the end of June.
The foundation did not say which events distressed Portman, but Israel has come under scrutiny over its use of live fire over the past three weeks during protests and clashes on the Gaza border.
Thirty-five Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli forces since the protests began on March 30, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Israel says its open-fire rules are necessary to defend the border, but the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation into the deaths.
Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev accused Portman of subscribing to the ideology of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that promotes sanctions on the Jewish state.
“I was sorry to hear that Natalie Portman has fallen like ripe fruit to the hands of BDS supporters,” Regev said in a statement given to Israeli journalists.
Portman was effectively joining the ranks of those “relating to the tale of Israel’s success and wonder of rebirth as one of darkness and darkness,” Regev said, a reference to “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” the book by Israeli writer Amos Oz that Portman made into a film in 2015.
But Rachel Azaria, a member of the centrist Kulanu party, which is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said Portman’s cancelation should constitute a “warning light” to Israel.
“She’s speaking for many in US Jewry, especially the young generation,” Azaria wrote on Twitter. “Losing them might be too high a price.”
Born in Jerusalem to a doctor father and an artist mother, 36-year-old Portman proudly brandishes her Israeli background.
She won a best actress Oscar for 2010’s psychological ballet thriller “Black Swan.”
The million-dollar Genesis prize money had been doubled by an additional contribution in December, and Portman had announced her intention to dedicate the money to programs advancing women’s equality.