Ron Howard on ‘Pavarotti’ — the first major documentary to screen in Saudi Arabia

A still from 'Pavarotti.' (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2019

Ron Howard on ‘Pavarotti’ — the first major documentary to screen in Saudi Arabia

  • 'Pavarotti' opens in GCC cinemas on July 4
  • Howard and his team conducted more than 50 interviews with his family, friends, lovers and collaborators

DUBAI: Luciano Pavarotti was more than the world’s most famous opera singer — he was a global pop-culture icon. While most people would be hard pressed to name an opera singer performing in 2019, Pavarotti brought opera to the world like no one else in the 20th century.

The Italian tenor sold over 100 million records, and performed with stars including Queen, Elton John and the Spice Girls, often for the benefit of refugees and the Red Cross. His group the Three Tenors sang at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, and he opened the 2006 Winter Olympics in what would become his final performance. Now, 12 years after his death, Pavarotti is still breaking new ground — “Pavarotti,” a documentary about his life directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard, is set to be the first major documentary released in theaters across Saudi Arabia when it opens on July 4.

Howard told Arab News that the key to the documentary is the extent to which Pavarotti’s life was reflected in the music he performed.

“I saw a cut where (Pavarotti sings from the opera) ‘Pagliacci’ — the sad clown who has to perform — linked with Luciano’s explanation of the character and the way it related to his life. That performance intercut with that time in his life was powerful. I recognized at that moment that if we chose performances that aligned age-wise with particular periods in his life, in a way we could make an opera about Pavarotti. That was really a creative lightbulb,” says Howard.

Pavarotti’s public and private lives had many highs and lows, from the joy of his friendship with Princess Diana of Wales to the pain of his romantic life becoming tabloid fodder. To capture that scope, Howard and his team conducted more than 50 interviews with his family, friends, lovers and collaborators. What surprised Howard was how universally the man was loved by everyone who knew him, despite his failures.

“Even with the family — though it was painful and emotional to go through some of the disappointment and heartbreak of their relationships — it kept coming back to how much joy and love there was and how much respect they had for him and his spirit,” says Howard. “Whether the people we interviewed had personal or professional relationships with him, the scales tilted tremendously to the positive in terms of their sense of what he meant to others and to them.”


South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

Updated 12 July 2020

South Asian marriage websites under fire for color bias

DHAHRAN: An online backlash has forced the matrimonial website Shaadi.com to take down an ‘skin color’ filter which asked users to specify their skin color using descriptors such as fair, wheatish or dark. The filter on the popular site, which caters to the South Asian diaspora, was one of the parameters for matching prospective partners.

Meghan Nagpal, a Toronto-based graduate student, logged on to the website and was appalled to see the skin-color filter. “Why should I support such archaic view [in 2020]?” she told Arab News.

Nagpal cited further examples of implicit biases against skin color in the diaspora communities – women who are dark-skinned are never acknowledged as “beautiful” or how light-skinned South Asian women who are mistaken as Caucasian consider it a compliment.

“Such biases stem from a history of colonization and the mentality that ‘white is superior’,” she said.

When Nagpal emailed the website’s customer service team, she received the response that “this is what most parents require.” She shared her experience on a Facebook group, attracting the attention of Florida-based Roshni Patel and Dallas-based Hetal Lakhani. The former took to online activism by tweeting the company and the latter started an online petition.

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“Now is the time to re-evaluate what we consider beautiful. Colorism has significant consequences in our community, especially for women. People with darker skin experience greater prejudice, violence, bullying and social sanctions,” the petition reads. “The idea that fairer skin is ‘good’ and darker skin is ‘bad’ is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”

Overnight, the petition garnered more 1,500 signatures and the site eventually removed the filter.

“When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world,” a spokesperson said.

“If one company starts a movement like this, it can change minds and perceptions. This is a step in the right direction,” said Nagpal. Soon after, Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansathi.com also took down the skin filter from its website.

Colorism and bias in matrimony is only one issue; prejudices are deeply ingrained and widespread across society. Dr. Sarah Rasmi, a Dubai-based psychologist, highlights research and observations on how light skin is an advantage in society.

The website took down the skin filter following backlash.

“Dark skin tends to have lower socio-economic status and, in the US justice system, has been found to get harsher and more punitive sentences.

“These biases for fair as opposed to dark skin comes from colonial prejudices and the idea that historically, light skin has been associated with privilege, power and superiority,” she said.

However, in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, change is underway.

Last month, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will be discontinuing its skin whitening creams in Asian and Middle Eastern markets, and earlier this month Hindustan Unilever Limited (Unilever’s Indian subsidiary) announced that it will remove the words ‘fair, white and light’ from its products and marketing. To promote an inclusive standard of beauty, it has also renamed its flagship Fair & Lovely product line to Glow & Lovely.

“Brands have to move away from these standards of beauty and be more inclusive so that people – regardless of their color, size, shape or gender – can find a role model that looks like them in the mass media,” said Dr. Rasmi.