LONDON: There’s an infectious enthusiasm about the four kids who star in “Spelling the Dream” — director Sam Rega’s Netflix documentary exploring the dominance of Indian-American contestants in US spelling bees. These children, gifted as they are, appear to simply love being part of the inimitable North American spelling bee culture: they thrive on the pressure of the performance and find the kind of stoic dignity in defeat that would put many adults to shame.
And it’s this unbridled joy for the rigorous, grueling competition that makes “Spelling the Dream” so engaging to watch — despite the fact that it rarely ventures deep into the societal and cultural context that has seen Indian-American kids play such a fundamental role in spelling bee history. Indeed, comedian Hari Kondabolu, who appears as a talking head in the film, likens these competitions to an Indian-American Super Bowl.
At times, it seems like Rega is about to delve further into that bigger picture. He traces generational paths of migrating families from the Indian subcontinent and their singular desire for their descendants to achieve intellectual greatness. He also touches on the (particularly pertinent) depressingly predictable racist responses from a minority of Americans to the dominance of Indian-American kids in what many US citizens consider to be a national institution. But Rega consistently pulls back just when things start to get heavy.
It’s a totally understandable move, particularly given that simply following the four stars yields such heartwarming footage — of their love for spelling and of the support proffered by their families. But the end result is a film that gives an enthralling glimpse into the culture of spelling bees, but that ends up feeling life affirming rather than revelatory.
Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity
Updated 33 min 40 sec ago
JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.
Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.
Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.
Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.
“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.
Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.
“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”
Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.
“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”
The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.
“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”
Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.
While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.
“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”
Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.
“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”
Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.
“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.
“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”
Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.
“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”
Founders of fashion label NIILI seek to share UAE design ethos with the world
Updated 10 May 2021
DUBAI: As UAE-based luxury womenswear label NIILI readies to bring its unique line to Saudi Arabia via the Homegrown Market, a concept store that showcases contemporary emerging Arab brands, the founders spoke to Arab News about their global hopes for the brand that was launched mere weeks before the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic.
NIILI’s “N21” Fall/Winter 2021/22 capsule collection, which will be available at the Homegrown Market, is inspired by the rich heritage of the UAE and features two of symbols of the country’s culture — palm trees and henna, the ancient art that is commonly used to design women’s hands and feet for weddings and other religious events like Eid.
A customized pattern melding the two is visible throughout the capsule collection on the label’s signature flowy kaftans. The new line is marked by soft pastels and natural hues, a color palette that was chosen to highlight elegance and femininity.
Launched mere weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the Middle East, NIILI has been fighting to build a name for itself in the competitive fashion market.
The co-founders of the ready-to-wear brand, Emirati Khaled Al-Zaabi and Spanish Paula Quetglas Llop, discussed the fashion house’s main goals, how the brand is succeeding despite tough times and its new collection.
“What we wanted to do was really create a truly wonderful luxury brand out of the region that would cater to the tastes of the region, but also share with the world our own views of design inspiration and luxury,” said Al-Zaabi.
The entrepreneur said that he wanted to share Emirati culture with the world, but also stay true to the nature of the UAE. “It is a very inclusive country and a very global country to actually have that international view and international appeal,” added the founder.
For Llop, she believes that this is the best time to “consume local.” She said that with the pandemic, the trend in countries now is to support “what’s going on in one's country.”
When speaking about the effect of the pandemic on NIILI, Al-Zaabi joked: “You could conduct all the analysis and industry studies… and then you launch on the 15th of January 2020, then a few weeks later there is a major global pandemic that hasn’t happened in a hundred years.”
He said that launching during the time of a pandemic was challenging. “It was and still is extremely difficult… tghankfully we are quite a lean structure as well. We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices as well (with) cuts,” he explained.
“It also allowed us to revise our strategy, revise our business plans and rethink a lot of aspects,” added Al-Zaabi.
According to Llop, the major change for NIILI was going entirely digital. “We really had to think about how to proceed to get a space in the digital world that is absolutely flooded with brands and new things,” she said.
However, the brand has been making moves since its launch. Just last month, NIILI launched on Ounass for customers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and beyond.
French model Cindy Bruna stars in the L’Oreal x Elie Saab beauty campaign
Updated 10 May 2021
DUBAI: Cosmetics giant L’Oreal has released a limited-edition makeup collection of nine products with Lebanese couturier Elie Saab. Saab is the latest designer to team up with the cosmetics company, which has partnered with other fashion houses such as Balmain, Isabel Marant and Karl Lagerfeld in the past. The campaign for the L’Oreal x Elie Saab makeup range was unveiled this week, starring French model Cindy Bruna.
The catwalk star appears in a beauty advert wearing a heavily-embellished gossamer dress designed by the Beirut-born couturier.
Bruna, who was born to an Italian father and a Congolese mother in France, actually landed one of her first modeling jobs for Elie Saab shortly after signing with Wilhelmina Models in 2012.
She would go on to become one of the most recognizable models in the industry, making headlines as the first Black woman to walk exclusively for Calvin Klein in that same year.
Bruna, has been ranked as a “Money Girl” on models.com, alongside the likes of Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, meaning she is predicted to have longevity in the fashion world. She has walked the runway a clutch of high-end labels, including Chanel, Saint Laurent and Gucci, to name just a few.
The nine-piece collection, which marks the designer’s first foray into beauty, includes four shades of lipstick, three creamy lip glosses, a nine-pan eyeshadow palette and an oil-infused mascara. Each comes in sleek, gold-tinged packaging that evokes the luxury of the designer’s signature ethereal gowns.
“My goal has always been to make women look beautiful and this collection allows me to bring an array of products to fit into women’s lives, helping them to feel more elegant and confident,” Saab said in a statement about the collaboration.
Arab artist Nourie Flayan collaborates with luxury label Carolina Herrera on Eid illustrations
Updated 10 May 2021
DUBAI: Lebanese artist Nourie Flayan is collaborating with US luxury fashion house Carolina Herrera on a set of Eid Al-Fitr illustrations.
In celebration of the holiday, the brand is releasing a series of illustrations aiming to bring “together friends and families after Ramadan and highlight the strong family values that are at the core of the Carolina Herrera brand heritage,” according to a released statement.
The illustrations that Flayan created for Carolina Herrera evoke a modern festive atmosphere, which fits both Ramadan and Eid, featuring traditional prints such as the Mashrabiya, an architectural element that is a characteristic of traditional architecture in the Islamic world.
The artist also used the jasmine flower, which is a tribute to the iconic flower Venezuelan-American designer Carolina Herrera seeks inspiration from — the imperial jasmine.
Flayhan is a well-known advocate of women’s rights.
She often draws colorful sketches of women in the region and many of her illustrations feature multiple hands or eyes.
Flayhan studied textiles in university before delving into illustration. During her career she has collaborated with international brands such as Shopbop, Gucci, Loewe, Yoox and Selfridges. This is her first collaboration with Carolina Herrera.
Vin Diesel talks ‘Fast and Furious 9,’ director lauds Mideast fans
Updated 10 May 2021
LOS ANGELES: Twenty years after the first film premiered, “Fast and Furious 9” is finally coming out in theaters — and fans of the high-octane franchise can expect the usual high-speed thrills, lead star Vin Diesel told Arab News.
The release of the newest installment of the film series was delayed five times, at first to avoid competing with other films and later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we were filming in London in 2019, we had no idea (of) the year that was to come,” Diesel told Arab News. “We had no idea that we would be all isolated from one another. We had no idea how much we missed a movie like this that brings people together, that we can all look up on the screen and see a part of ourselves on the screen as a part of a global family.”
“Fast and Furious 9” sees criminal-turned-hero Dominic Toretto take a break from the fast lane as he cares for his young son. But action speeds back into his life with the return of his long-forgotten brother, a skilled assassin who is out for revenge.
“We’ve grown accustomed to accepting the fact that family and brotherhood is everything for Dom,” Diesel explained. “His mantra is ‘never turn your back on family’ and yet when he becomes a father, he has to take a closer look into his past, to a broken brotherhood.”
Wrestler John Cena joins the cast as the film’s chief antagonist, Jakob Toretto, while Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren will reprise their roles from the 2017 and 2019 films, respectively.
They are joined by franchise mainstays Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang and Tyrese Gibson.
The series is set to end after two more movies, but the producers are planning something that could be exciting for fans in the Middle East.
“All last week, I was working with (director) Justin Lin about ‘Fast 10’ and the Middle East, the return to the Middle East, came up in our discussions,” Diesel hinted.
Lin elaborated, saying: “The Middle East has some of the most loyal and amazing fans so that kind of started us talking about, in this final chapter if we’re looking for to reengage, where do we want to take the story? So, there’s a lot of talk and it was very organic and I’m very excited.”