Making ‘Capernaum’ was a duty: Oscar contender Labaki

The 45-year-old has arguably become Lebanese culture’s most prominent export and she is bent on making good use of her growing celebrity. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019
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Making ‘Capernaum’ was a duty: Oscar contender Labaki

  • Labaki hopes an Academy Award will not only complete the film’s impressive harvest of distinctions but also boost its impact at home
  • The activist in her wanted to jolt her audience into action and mobilize decision-makers in Lebanon

BEIRUT: For Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, whose social-realist epic “Capernaum” is an Oscar contender for best foreign film, the toughest battle is only just beginning.
Her heart-wrenching story of poverty and survival in Beirut’s wretched underclass won a 15-minute standing ovation and the Jury Prize in Cannes last year.
A former election candidate in Beirut, Labaki now hopes an Academy Award will not only complete the film’s impressive harvest of distinctions but also boost its impact at home.

“So the conversation is starting now and that was my aim, to create this shock, and to create this debate,” Labaki told AFP in her Beirut office.
The 45-year-old has arguably become Lebanese culture’s most prominent export and she is bent on making good use of her growing celebrity.
“I feel it like a duty, it’s not a choice even, and this is what we’re going to start doing, very, very soon: show the film to the government and organize these round tables with judges and lawyers,” she said.
“Maybe it’s going to have a big influence and maybe it won’t, but we have to try,” Labaki said.
The film has already changed the lives of its cast members, many of whom were experiencing the same struggles as their characters during the gruelling six-month shoot.
“Capernaum” follows the travails of Zain, a malnourished boy who runs away from his family when his 11-year-old sister Sahar is sold into marriage.
He is sheltered by an undocumented African worker named Rahil and ends up looking after her baby boy Yonas when she is arrested and jailed.
The parallels between the film’s script and what happened to the actors in real life are uncanny.
Baby Yonas’s on-screen and real-life mothers were arrested together during filming and both were in jail when the scenes of the two children being left to their own devices in the streets of Beirut were being shot.
In the film, Zain keeps dreaming that he will one day escape his misery and move to Sweden.
The Syrian refugee child who plays Zain’s character was recently resettled by the United Nations in Norway, where he now lives with family in a house overlooking the sea.
“I don’t know why those things kept happening, maybe because the script was inspired by so much reality that it was actually bound to happen,” Labaki said.
Zain is now going to school as are his parents as well as several other of the film’s children.
Capernaum has already achieved new milestones for Lebanese cinema and received glowing endorsements from media mogul Oprah Winfrey and others.
Some critics however argued the film was unsubtle in rubbing the viewer’s nose in social squalor, telling the audience when to smile and when to cry.
But restraint, Labaki retorts, is just not in her culture.
“It’s as if people, especially critics, want all cinemas coming from all parts of the world to look the same way,” she said. “Let each country bring its own identity.”
“It’s really very hurtful to hear words like ‘poverty porn’ or ‘emotional manipulation’,” Labaki said. “Especially when there’s no big make believe in the film, everything that is in the film is a reality.”
The activist in her wanted to jolt her audience into action and mobilize decision-makers in Lebanon, a country where Syrian refugees account for a quarter of the population but where faith in the government is rock-bottom.
“People come to me in tears, people say ‘You changed me forever’, ‘I’m not looking at the child I see under the bridge every day in the same way’, ‘I want to do something about it’, ‘How can we help?’,” Labaki said.
She said an Oscar on February 24 would further increase her chances of making a difference.
“Why do we use the word influencers? A celebrity is an influencer whether they like it or not, so they need to use this influence in the best way possible.”


Nicole Scherzinger proves she’s just like every other tourist with this iconic Dubai snap

Updated 25 March 2019
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Nicole Scherzinger proves she’s just like every other tourist with this iconic Dubai snap

  • The singer performed for the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics, where more than 7,500 athletes took part
  • Scherzinger's aunt has Down Syndrome

DUBAI: Dubai is one of the region’s most popular tourist hubs and there’s one photograph that eager visitors scramble to snap when they touch down in the city of gold — a shot of them standing in front of the iconic Burj Khalifa.

Visitor from the furthest reaches of the globe can always be seen striking a pose — or 20 — in front of the tallest building in the world before posting the coveted snap online.

Singer Nicole Scherzinger joined the legions of travelers who have posted similar shots on their social media feeds and took to Instagram this week with a collection of snaps of herself standing in front of a glittering Burj Khalifa at night.

The performer wore a black-and-white striped crop top with a matching tiered maxi skirt, complete with frilled layers.

She visited Dubai after performing in the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi’s closing concert.  

The games saw more than 7,500 athletes from 190 nations compete in 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports geared toward athletes with intellectual disabilities.

“Tonight, I got to go out into the stadium and hang amongst some of the amazing athletes that competed at the @worldgamesad this week. Over 7000 phenomenal humans with intellectual disabilities (or as I call them, super abilities)… came together in Abu Dhabi to battle it out through sports. My love and admiration of this organization is almost selfish — the joy and inspiration spending time with them brings me restores my faith in humanity time and time again. Athletes, you are of such determination, power, SUPERPOWERS, strength, grace, humility and pure LOVE! Congratulations to all of the incredible talent that competed and celebrated with us tonight,” the star posted on Instagram after her show.

According to the organizers, singer and songwriter Scherzinger has a personal connection with the Special Olympics due to her close relationship with her aunt, who has Down syndrome.

“She is such a positive influence and inspiration for me,” Scherzinger told the UK’s Metro newspaper in 2013. “People get caught up in everyday little problems and in their own vanity and Keziah is always happy and there to give you love and a hug no matter what. She’s a big walking ball of love – she inspires me to be happy, help others and be more grateful.”