Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues

Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues
The films include "Wasati," a short about an extremist attack on a Saudi theater. (Screengrab)
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Updated 26 February 2020

Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues

Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues
  • The short films will be released under the title 'Six Windows in the Desert'
  • The topics tackled include social taboos, extremism and the human psyche

RIYADH: Netflix is to stream six movies produced by Saudis after buying the rights from a startup studio based in the Kingdom.

The short films, to be released under the title “Six Windows in the Desert,” will be available later this month in 190 countries.

Made by Telfaz11 Studios, the flicks aim to “shine a light on thought-provoking subjects with a focus on social themes,” the global streaming service said on Wednesday.

Leading figures in the Kingdom’s movie industry hailed the agreement as “a great step for Saudi filmmaking” which would throw the international spotlight on the country’s emerging talent.

The topics tackled include social taboos, extremism and the human psyche.

One of the films, “Wasati,” has been based on the true story of an attack by extremists on a play in Riyadh in 2005, while another production, “27th of Shaban,” has placed its focus on two young Saudis going on a date.

“Not only will ‘Six Windows in the Desert’ offer global audiences a lens into the perspective of the Saudi creators, but also through the eyes of film characters with their own take on storytelling,” Netflix added.

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of content acquisition at Netflix, said the deal meant viewers would have “exclusive access to captivating and intriguing stories from the Arab world.”

Telfaz11 Studios’ chief executive officer, Alaa Fadan, said the company was immensely proud to have had the films brought onto Netflix.

“We are excited to bring the work of local Saudi talents to 167 million subscribers around the world. Telfaz11 Studios produces authentic and intriguing stories from our culture, and we cannot wait for the world to see what we have to offer,” he added.

Saudi screenwriter and co-founder of Hekaya Studios, Omar Ashmouni, told Arab News: “It is a great step for Saudi filmmaking. I honestly believe that we have a lot of stories that need to be told and a lot of stories that need a platform like Netflix to showcase our culture and how we view the world, because it’s unique. And I totally believe we have amazing stories to tell and that it’s the time for global filmmaking to rise and shine.

“I can’t wait to watch it and I can’t wait for more Saudi content to be on Netflix and more global platforms.

“Telfaz11 is a pioneer (in Saudi filmmaking). They’re doing amazing work and they’re paving the way for the rest of us to follow, which is great,” he added.

Saudi director and filmmaker Abdulelah Al-Qurashi described the deal as a huge opportunity for short films, “because we usually don’t see them. Short films are usually displayed at festivals.

“Aside from Netflix buying the Saudi films, there will be some spotlight for short films. We haven’t seen these short films and they were created around four years ago, and we’ve heard about these films a lot but never watched them.

“This is a great opportunity for regular viewers who don’t attend festivals; now they can watch these short films,” he said.

“We have so many talents, this isn’t new. Saudis just have more exposure now, not just in the field of filmmaking but in many fields regarding arts.

“Maybe we needed to work more and have more hope and see more opportunities opening up. Just like when cinemas opened, many people began making films. I see that there might be a sense of competitiveness among Saudi filmmakers in the near future,” Al-Qurashi added.

The Six Movies

- 27th of Shaban (2019): In the early 2000s, Mohammed and Nouf meet for a date; an act prohibited in Saudi Arabia. This film by Mohamed Al Salman shows how the date unfolds.



- Predicament in Sight (2016): A science-fiction short set in the 1970’s. Directed by Fairs Godus, survivors of a plane crash in an isolated desert area are forced to co-exist after multiple attempts to communicate with the outside world had failed.

- Wasati (2016): Based on the true story of extremists attacking a play called Wasati bela Wastiah (A Moderate without Moderation) in Riyadh 15 years ago, the film retells the events from a different point of view. Directed by Ali Kalthami, Wasati won Best Director and Best Foreign Film at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in 2017. Read an Arab News interview with Kalthami about the film here.



- The Rat (2018): Fahad spends the last day of his life with the fear of his father looming over his head. Like a rat on a wheel, Fahad scurries through cycles of fear characterized by different aspects of his father and tries to break free. Written and directed by Faisal Al Amer.

- Is Sumyati going to Hell? (2016): A film through the eyes of Layan, the youngest child of a family who employs housemaid Sumyati. Having to deal with the racism of her employers, Sumyati tries to survive. Directed by Meshal Al Jaser, the film won Foreign Short Film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards in 2017.



- Curtain (2018): A female nurse escaping traumatic events faces fear and judgement at her workplace. Directed by Mohamed Alsalman.

New podcast for Middle East talks diversity, inclusion

New podcast for Middle East talks diversity, inclusion
Updated 08 March 2021

New podcast for Middle East talks diversity, inclusion

New podcast for Middle East talks diversity, inclusion
  • Special production made to celebrate International Women’s Day

DUBAI: Engineering consultant WSP Middle East, The Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC), and international law firm Pinsent Masons have joined forces to launch a new podcast episode to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Titled, “Diversity wins, but gaps persist: How can we close the inclusion divide?” the production explores diversity and how organizations in the Middle East and globally can tackle the inclusion divide.

The special-edition podcast is hosted by Gurminder Sagoo, client director for WSP Middle East, in conversation with Ashwaq Al-Babtain, TRSDC project manager, and Gurmeet Kaur, partner at Pinsent Masons Middle East.

Sagoo told Arab News: “In our quest to ensure that equality makes its way into our workplaces, it’s important for us to celebrate diversity and the benefits it can bring.

“If organizations choose to challenge the status quo they can benefit from diverse teams but most importantly individuals can thrive within cultures that champion inclusivity.”

The International Women’s Day special aims to provoke ideas to overcome stigmas and create a broader, more diverse, and aware working environment, the end goal being to find solutions that potentially narrow the gaps currently preventing living and working environments from being inclusive by nature.

“Organizations with more diverse workforces do better because it means there will be a variety of perspectives and it helps us make better decisions and offer innovation and more insightful solutions for our clients,” said Kaur.

“Encouraging discussions such as this will hopefully help to close the diversity gap and facilitate a move toward organizational cultures where managers and leaders advocate for diversity.”

The episode is part of WSP Middle East’s podcast series “Anticipate,” which features conversations with thought leaders from the engineering and construction industry on future trends, hot topics, challenges, and solutions.

Netflix pledges $5 million to support female storytellers

Netflix pledges $5 million to support female storytellers
Updated 08 March 2021

Netflix pledges $5 million to support female storytellers

Netflix pledges $5 million to support female storytellers

DUBAI: On International Women’s Day, Netflix is investing in the next generation of storytellers by pledging $5 million globally toward programs that help identify, train and provide work placements for female talent around the world.

The investment is part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which was announced last week. The fund will see the company investing $20 million a year for the next five years in building more inclusive pipelines behind the camera.

It is aimed at increasing the equality of women on and off-screen. Through partnerships with local third parties and custom programs, Netflix will support a range of initiatives, from workshops to train aspiring female writers and producers on how best to pitch their creative vision, to shadowing opportunities on productions that enable women to gain first-hand experience.

“As an Indian woman growing up in the US, I didn’t see anyone on screen that looked like me until Parminder Nagra joined 'ER' in 2003. But when I started reading scripts as a young TV executive, I didn’t let that precedent get in my way,” Bela Bajaria, head of global TV, Netflix, wrote in a blog post.

“Years later I would finally make that dream a reality with Mindy Kaling in “The Mindy Project,” and in doing so I suspect millions of Indian girls got to see someone like themselves on screen for the first time.”

The streaming giant is pioneering women through productions such as Korean comedian Park Na-rae’s stand-up special “Glamour Warning,” which is the first Korean female stand-up special, and Marvel’s “Silver & Black,” directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood; making her the first black woman to direct a superhero movie.

Netflix’s initiative will expand to the Arab world, too. This year, it will launch the first Arabic Original “Al Rawabi School For Girls,” led by Tima Shomali with a full female cast and crew. Later in the year, Netflix will launch “Finding Ola,” which will see Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabry take the role of executive producer for the first time in her career.

Currently, the platform features several Arab female talents from the entertainment industry through shows and movies including “Nappily Ever After” and “Whispers,” directed by Haifa Al-Mansour and Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia; “The Kite” and “Solitaire,” directed by Randa Chahal Sabag and Sophie Boutros from Lebanon; and “Wajib,” directed by Anne Marie Jacir from Palestine.

“Experience has taught me that great stories are universal: they can come from anywhere, be created by anyone, and be loved by everyone — what matters is that they are told authentically,” Bajaria said.

“Now we need to ensure that traditionally disadvantaged voices — in this case, women — get the same chances to be heard in our industry as men have been for generations.” 

‘Saudi Arabia is where I belong and where I need to contribute’

‘Saudi Arabia is where I belong and where I need to contribute’
Updated 08 March 2021

‘Saudi Arabia is where I belong and where I need to contribute’

‘Saudi Arabia is where I belong and where I need to contribute’
  • MBC’s director of Talent and Academy on empowering Saudi women in media

DUBAI: From allowing women to drive to working in the armed forces, Saudi Arabia has come a long way in supporting and empowering women. The country has struck many firsts along the way. Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was appointed Ambassador to the US in 2019, making her the first woman in the country’s history to serve as an ambassador. She was also elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2020. Saudi Research and Marketing Group appointed Joumana Rashed Al-Rashed as CEO in 2020, making her the first Saudi Arabian woman to hold the position.

In light of the moves that Saudi women are making, Arab News spoke to Jana Yamani, executive director of MBC Academy, dedicated to training and career opportunities; MBC Talent, the group’s talent agency, and MBC AL AMAL, the group’s corporate social responsibility arm.

Prior to joining MBC in 2020, Yamani was the executive manager of fellowships and traineeships at the Crown Prince’s Misk Foundation. She also worked at consulting firm McKinsey & Company in addition to establishing her own consultancy JY Consulting.

Yamani spent nine years outside the Kingdom attaining a double bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics from Northeastern University and a master’s degree in computation for design and optimization from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in addition to a stint at a tech startup in Silicon Valley.

Having studied in North America, what was your experience returning to the Kingdom?

I spent just over nine years in total outside of the country. The first time I left the Kingdom was for my undergraduate degree at Northeastern University, after which I returned.

Shortly afterward, I traveled again to attend MIT for my master’s degree and also returned. Finally, I worked in Silicon Valley for a period of time.

Every time I returned, I felt an incredible excitement and drive to give back to the country. After all, I was in the US because my home country allowed me the opportunity to explore and get an education from some of the best institutions in the world. In turn, I feel it’s only right to come back and contribute to the development of the Kingdom.

I returned in 2016 after working for one of Silicon Valley’s leading startups. It was around that time that the country was undergoing a transformation under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. I remember sitting with my husband a few weeks prior to deciding to go back (to the US) and talking about all the amazing developments, and we both agreed that we wanted to be part of that transformation (in Saudi Arabia). 

When I landed in Saudi in 2016, I somehow sensed that my last working stint abroad would be the final one. Saudi Arabia is where I belong and where I need to contribute.

How has the Middle East region and Saudi Arabia changed when it comes to being more inclusive of women in the workplace especially in leadership positions? 

Personally, I did not feel anything different from what I felt when I was in the US. But, there is no doubt that Saudi was going through a faster transformation.

Interestingly, when I started my own business in Saudi, I had to do most things on my own. I felt everything was enabled for women to take control and finish these processes on their own.

Additionally, I remember when I joined the Misk Foundation, I was surprised to see a large percentage of females in the workspace (we were more than 60 percent female).

Now, with being able to drive, there is no barrier for any woman with big ambitions; she can achieve whatever she dreams of. With women being given even more opportunities than their male counterparts — because we are trying to achieve the right balance — we are technically in the best time.

What are some of the efforts MBC has taken to empower women within the organization?

Within MBC Academy, I am pleased to say that more than 50 percent of our applicants and trainees are females. Meanwhile, at MBC Talent, female casting is an integral part of the division. We want to ensure that women are represented on a larger scale in all areas of production. Female talent development is a big part of what we do.

As for the group overall, we are part of an organization that hires based on capabilities and qualifications, not on gender, so our entire MBC family comprises some fantastically talented, ambitious, and hardworking women.

What are your thoughts on the portrayal and representation of women in advertising and content? How has that changed over time?

There are hugely talented women out there, and the portrayal and representation of Saudi women is definitely growing and becoming more commonplace.

Within MBC Group, we’re taking more steps towards this as well. This month, we are launching a female-focused mentorship program, which will begin internally with a view to expand and open it to women in media in the Kingdom later on.

We want to be able to support women to thrive in the media ecosystem by providing the right mentorship and workshops that tackle crucial topics specific to them.

What has your experience been with Saudi female talent? Are there more Saudi women now than before and what are some of the challenges they face?

The Saudi female talent we have been working with are extremely enthusiastic, with ambitions to learn as much as they can. They definitely want to expand on their capabilities and potential. 

It has been less than three months into the year, and we have already found more Saudi media talent than ever before.

However, one challenge that remains is that we do encounter women who don’t believe that media is a sustainable career path. We need to work on changing that perception. But, that is only a matter of time as the whole development process is swiftly happening.

With the recent developments and initiatives to empower women in Saudi Arabia, how do you see the future playing out?

The future is definitely positive, thanks to the leadership’s vision for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that includes support for women and the issues affecting them.

Today, Saudi women are an integral part of the country’s growth, prosperity, development, and renaissance — our country is witnessing this at all levels. 

As for us, within MBC Group and MBC Academy, we are fully invested in contributing towards this vision.

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
Updated 08 March 2021

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
  • New miniseries tells the stories of six Saudi women

DUBAI: Unilever’s Miraa has partnered with regional podcast network Finyal Media to release a six-episode podcast series titled “A Breath, a Step, a Mirror” for International Women’s Day.

Miraa is an Arabic-only regional publication for, by and about Arab women, focusing on health, beauty and lifestyle.

The podcast series delves into the lives of six women from Saudi Arabia who write a letter to a younger version of themselves.

“With the launch of our new podcast, our hope is that the personal and intimate stories and growth journeys of our hosts inspire more women to look beyond their challenges and rise above judgments to pursue their growth and goals,” said Sonia Kapoor, senior content manager at Unilever and Miraa.

From encouraging their younger selves to break free of rigid molds to wishing they had had the confidence to be themselves instead of trying to please others, these women tell stories that are a reflection of their journeys and a chance to explore what they might have done differently.

“We look forward to women across the region having the chance to listen to the series, and we hope these stories will help other young Arab women to grow in confidence and reach their true potential as we mark another International Women’s Day,” added Leila Hamadeh, co-founder and CEO of Finyal Media.

The first season, produced in collaboration with Lux, was released in the first week of March, with more seasons expected throughout the year.

The series is available on all podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anghami, Deezer and Spotify.

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
Updated 06 March 2021

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
  • Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor
  • Both Salemeh and the US State department deny the claim

LONDON: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that he will be taking legal action against Bloomberg after it published an article claiming that the US is considering sanctioning him, a move the US State Department denies.

“We have seen reports about possible sanctions of Riad Salameh. They are untrue,” a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.

Last week, Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor, a claim both Salemeh and the US State department deny.

An investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement has been opened by Swiss authorities.

Salemeh, his brother and assistant were also being probed over multimillion-dollar transfers out of the country at a time when Lebanese citizens were allowed minimum withdrawal amounts from their bank accounts.

The country’s currency hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar on Wednesday, an unprecedented mark that sparked a resurgence of protests that have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests in October 2018 calling for the end of widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions that have since seen more than half the population living below the poverty line.

The country’s current economic and financial crisis has been largely blamed on Salemeh due to his long tenure, having headed the central bank for 28 years after assuming control in 1993.