Inside the return of ‘Ramy’

Inside the return of ‘Ramy’
“Ramy” is about an Egyptian-American living in New Jersey who is determined to become a better Muslim. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 June 2020

Inside the return of ‘Ramy’

Inside the return of ‘Ramy’
  • Ramy Youssef’s comedy show was an unexpected award-winning smash last year. Now he’s back with a second season, digging deeper into Muslim culture

DUBAI: Ramy Youssef didn’t create his series “Ramy” to tell your story, he did it to tell his own. It’s about an Egyptian-American living in New Jersey who is determined to become a better Muslim, trying to grow into an adult and often stumbling along the way. It’s honest, funny, crude, and sometimes heartbreaking. So, while Youssef didn’t intend it to be a story for so many young people growing up in the Arab world when it debuted in the region on OSN, they looked at the TV and they saw a life with struggles like theirs. “Ramy” is an American show, but it feels remarkably familiar to many in the region.

Most of the inspiration for “Ramy” comes from when Youssef was a stand-up comedian sharing stories of his life in front of audiences ranging from eight to 40 people. From the stage, Youssef could feel the stories he told resonated with his audience. He knew people connected with it, but he didn’t know that the world would. To an extent he still doesn’t, and won’t let himself.




“Ramy” is an American show, but it feels remarkably familiar to many in the region. (Supplied)

“(I was) not fully conscious of the reach, I think to the benefit of the show,” Youssef tells Arab News. “I don't know what it would have done if I started thinking ‘Well, let me write to this global thing.’ Like, it's just not really a fun place to write from.

“The scope to me is very personal, and the reach of my work before this show was always super-personal. ‘Ramy’ just scales all that,” he continues. “And I think when you scale it, you're not aware. For me, I'm not aware that it's going to do the things that you just said; I'm not aware that people in Egypt and in Dubai and really all over the world are going to (connect with it in that way). I think we were really shocked at the reach.”




Youssef dug deeper into his Muslim faith, introducing a charismatic new Imam named Sheik Ali, played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, with whom Ramy quickly bonds. (Supplied)

Season one was an outsized success, netting Youssef a Golden Globe for Best Actor and a global following. For the newly released second season, Youssef dug deeper into his Muslim faith, introducing a charismatic new Imam named Sheik Ali, played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, with whom Ramy quickly bonds.

While Youssef purposefully excises from his mind the stress of making a show for the entire Muslim world, that doesn’t mean that — in depicting his faith and culture for an audience that may or may not be familiar with them — he doesn’t get awoken at night by the pressure of tackling that material with care.

“I think the thing that scares me most is that I care about the faith. I care about the culture. I care about the community,” he says. “It's funny because I think people watching will have sensitivities about what's going on. I have those sensitivities, too. There’s this element of knowing what I want to do as a comedian and then knowing who I am even just as an audience member. You’re always trying to close that gap.”




Most of the inspiration for “Ramy” comes from when Youssef was a stand-up comedian. (Supplied)

Part of the struggle for non-white filmmakers is the unfair responsibility put on them to represent a community or culture that doesn’t receive the level of representation that it should. Many of the stories “Ramy” tells are stories that have never been told on television before, so it requires bravery to tell them honestly. According to Youssef, every artist should have the right to make art without the pressure of being an ambassador, and the only way to achieve that is with more representation of Arabs and Islam in the world of film and television.

“I'm fighting for the right for people to be themselves and to not have to be ambassadors through art. Art is not being a representative or a politician. Getting to make something is a personal expression. If you're fixated on the political ramifications of making something and having to take that weight on your shoulders, it's just anti-making anyone laugh. It's anti-making something that feels organic,” Youssef says. “I see all of that, I feel it, and then I put it away because it would be irresponsible to try and take those things on because you'd get criticism for trying to do that, too.

“I start to really think, 'Well, what am I trying to avoid if I operate from certain places?’ if I operate from certain places, then, I'm trying to avoid criticism, and that's a loss. So why would I avoid that myself? I'd rather just do the things that are going to be taken however they're going to be taken, but at least they're true to what I want to do,” he continues.

“Ramy” is very much Youssef’s show, but his creative process has become increasingly collaborative, he says. Each day in the writer’s room, especially during season two, the other writers and producers would interrogate Youssef and pull things from those conversations, getting into arguments and figuring out what excited them. To develop the supporting characters, Youssef worked more closely with the other actors, including those born in the Gulf, sometimes drawing directly from their own life experiences.




According to Youssef, every artist should have the right to make art without the pressure of being an ambassador. (Supplied)

“I had a lot of conversations with May (Calamawy, a Bahraini actress who plays Ramy’s sister Deena) and we really built (an) episode around her real-life experience of feeling like she had (a curse) on her, dealing with hair loss as a woman and trying to understand what that meant. (There have been a huge number) of women who have reached out to her and reached out to me being like, ‘How did you know about this really specific pocket of this field and the resonance of something like that?’ I certainly wasn't aware — all that came from May,” says Youssef.

“The environment that I like having on the show is everyone talking about everything, but I do make sure that it sits with me,” he adds. “There are things that other people find interesting that I don't, and I don't do them. I don't do things unless they really sit with where I want this to go.”




Season one was an outsized success, netting Youssef a Golden Globe for Best Actor and a global following. (AFP)

At the end of two seasons, Youssef feels he’s just getting started. With so much left in each character to explore, including Ramy himself, and with such rich material, the deeper the show gets, the more is unearthed. And for every idea that excites Youssef for the show’s future, he discovers another that needs to be told by artists other than him.

“I just get excited about, ‘Oh man, there's so many other takes on what happens underneath the Muslim umbrella, or even underneath the Muslim being Arab, that we're never going to get to!’  It just makes it clear how many things can be made — and how many things should be made — not just by me but by other people. People who I hope are excited or aggravated by this portrayal, one or the other, I think is really good fuel for making more stuff,” says Youssef.

And now that Youssef has an overall deal with A24, the production company behind “Ramy,” he explains, his next task will be lifting up other voices and allowing them to tell those stories.


REVIEW: Super-sport meets SUV — The Lamborghini Urus

Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 24 February 2021

REVIEW: Super-sport meets SUV — The Lamborghini Urus

Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • The Italian manufacturer has made a car equally at home on the school run or the racing circuit

DUBAI: It’s confession time: I’ve always been a bit scared of Lamborghini.

The flashy super-sports cars in shocking colors that you see on Dubai streets and on the forecourts of five-star hotels look so downright aggressive and fast that I’ve always had a sneaky feeling that a man of my advancing years would look slightly ridiculous getting in and out of a Huracan or Aventador.

But the lure of the magical Lambo name was too much, and when the opportunity arose I was excited to step into the rather more sedate Urus, Lamborghini’s move into the super-SUV segment.

 

This section of the luxury car market is smoking hot at the moment, especially in the Middle East, which just loves its SUVs. Rolls Royce, Bentley, Porsche, and Maserati have all produced fantastic multi-terrain vehicles recently, and even Ferrari is working on its own thoroughbred.

But the Urus is the sportiest and sexist of the elite SUVs so far and Lamborghini says it is the most powerful. Gulf drivers have taken to it with relish, judging by the numbers on the roads, many of which are being driven by Arab women. Interesting phenomenon.

FASTFACT

Urus

The name of a type of bull, similar to Spanish fighting bulls, maintaining Lamborghini’s link with the powerful animal.

I said “sedate,” but that is not really the appropriate term for a vehicle that will get you from 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed of just over 300kph. This is all thanks to a four-liter V-8 twin-turbo engine that gets all that power to a 4WD system the techies say is among the most advanced around at the moment.

If you want to emulate the archetypal Lambo-head by popping and cracking the engine at the signal, you can do that, but during normal driving the engine thunders rather than screams. You can hear yourself think and have a decent conversation in the cockpit, though you may have to shout for the benefit of rear-seat passengers — not a problem Lamborghini encounters in its sports cars, of course.

I had been told to expect superior road handling, and was not disappointed. This is a two-ton car that can take the kids to school in style and safety, or do some dune-bashing at the weekend, but the way it hurls itself out of sharp corners, or sticks flat to the road on hairpin bends, is a marvel to behold.

A lot of that is down to the ultra-sophisticated four-wheel steering that has the effect of elongating and shortening the wheelbase depending on speed and road orientation.

With such handling, it really is hard to believe you’re driving an SUV.

FASTFACT

Tractors

The original Mr Lamborghini also produced farm machines, and you can still buy a Lambo tractor — although that company no longer has anything to do with the sports-car manufacturer.

The interior screams “Italia,” and not just because of the driving modes — including Strada, Corsa, and Terra — that are flagged up on the center console. The others are Sport, and — a nice touch for the Middle East — Sabba (sand). I doubt the Neve (snow) mode will get much use in the region.

And of course you can personalize your own driving experience, in the Ego mode — again, how very Italian.

The cockpit technology is extremely sophisticated, with everything you’d expect from an Italian manufacturer now owned by a German company, VW. A lot of the hi-tech features seem heavily influenced by Audi, which is a good thing of course. Vorsprung Durch Technik, after all.

Lamborghini took a long time to design and unveil the Urus, perhaps while pondering whether it was really possible to mix a super-sports car with an SUV. But it has done it. At times you have to remind yourself that this is a multi-terrain vehicle, rather than something you want to throw around the F1 track on Yas Island.

The 2021 version will cost you around $272,257 for starters, but options can raise that significantly. To get the super-sport SUV of your dreams, you’d better start $354,000 and be prepared to go higher.

The car I drove was in a reassuringly traditional shade of British racing green, but now that I’ve overcome my Lambo-phobia with the Urus, look out for me on the roads of Dubai in a bright lime-and-day-glo-orange Huracan.


Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied

DUBAI: “The Cultural Economy and the Economy of Culture” is the theme of the upcoming digital-only Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, set to take place from March 8-10. 

The fourth edition of the virtual forum, which will be open to the public, will bring together cultural leaders, practitioners and experts from the fields of art, heritage, museums, media and technology to generate new strategies and thinking, and identify ways in which culture can transform societies and communities worldwide.

There will also be a curated selection of artist talks, film screenings and performances all taking place during the summit.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the culture and creative industries were one of the fastest growing sectors in the world economy. But the sector was one of the hardest struck by COVID-19.

Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, in a statement” “The global challenges of the past year have truly demonstrated the vital power of culture to improve our personal and collective wellbeing. Yet, cultural institutions worldwide continue to struggle to achieve funding structures to continue operating. It is now more important than ever to shed light on the critical role that the culture sector plays as an essential driver of sustainable economic and social development.

“We are proud to collaborate with top global cultural partners to convene renowned professionals from a variety of fields, ensuring the level and breadth of expertise needed for fruitful discussions and effective, goal-oriented outcomes.”


TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied

DUBAI: The family of the late Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, known as The Crocodile Hunter, has been keeping the television personality’s legacy alive.

His wife Terri and their children Robert and Bindi run the Australia Zoo and their work there is featured in the popular reality TV series, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins.”

Irwin died in 2006 after receiving a stingray injury in a freak accident, but his family has followed in his footsteps by taking care of animals from around the world.

And now season one of their hit TV show has launched on discovery+ via Starzplay in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Irwin family is passionate about nature and Terri, Robert, and Bindi have dedicated their lives to promoting wildlife conservation and inspiring the next generation of young people to take an active part in protecting and preserving the natural world.

“Dad’s passion and enthusiasm and love for wildlife was just absolutely contagious,” Robert, 17, told Arab News.

“That’s why I am so passionate about wildlife conservation. It’s hard not to be passionate about wildlife when you had a dad like mine. So, I definitely think it is a really big honor to get to continue that legacy.”

Robert Irwin photographed with his mother Terri Irwin and his sister Bindi Irwin. Supplied

Growing up at the Australia Zoo, Irwin’s son has been surrounded by animals for as long as he can remember. “When I was young, my parents nicknamed me The Moth Hunter. I was just super transfixed with chasing and catching moths,” he said.

Now in his late teens, the wildlife activist and award-winning photographer is responsible for a string of diverse and equally important tasks that include traveling around the globe to advocate for conservation, feed saltwater crocodiles, and check up on the zoo’s injured koalas at the family’s wildlife hospital.

“Life in the Australia Zoo is absolutely 100 miles an hour every single day,” he added.

When the Irwin family originally opened the Australia Zoo, it was a small reptile park, but it has since grown into a vast conservation area.

“We’ve really broadened our conservation reach, helping to support wildlife protection programs all over the world. We’ve secured over half-a-million acres of natural habitat and it’s become a really big, big program and a big hub for conservation,” Robert said.

When the family was forced to shut down the zoo for 78 days due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a change in focus was required.

Supplied.

“The pandemic had a really big effect on what we do here in Australia. We had to close our doors for the first time in 50 years. It was a really challenging and very stressful time for all of us, my whole family and for our whole routine.

“We had about an $80,000 a week food bill just to feed our animals alone. And, of course, no money coming in with no patrons. And so, it was really tough for a while there,” he added.

With the green light from the Australian government, the family was able to re-open the zoo’s gates with COVID-19 health and safety restrictions in place.

“We’ve now got social distancing signs everywhere and we have had to change our wildlife experiences to make sure everything is completely COVID-19 safe. But still, when people come into the Australia Zoo, they can still have a really fun and exciting day. You can still cuddle with koalas and rhinos – you just can’t cuddle with each other,” he said.

In addition to re-opening the wildlife sanctuary, the family is looking forward to welcoming the arrival of Bindi and her pro wakeboarder husband Chandler Powell’s first child, a baby girl.

Bindi, 22, announced her pregnancy to the world in January by recreating a maternity throwback photo her parents posed for while they were expecting Robert. Her family discovered she was expecting in an equally special way.

Supplied.

“After she called my mom and I and told us she was pregnant, Bindi wanted to share the news with the rest of the family and team. We were actually on our annual crocodile research expedition in remote bushland in northern Queensland, which is a three-day drive from the zoo and many kilometers away from any sort of civilization,” her brother said.

“We were sitting around a fire and Bindi just got up and told everyone about this exciting news. It felt very poignant because where we were is actually where dad used to catch crocodiles. It was his favorite place in the world, so it was very special.

“I just want this little girl to have the most fun, awesome, exciting life. Growing up in a zoo, it’s going to be pretty hectic. And I don’t know if she is ready for what’s about to come, but I want to get her in there, wrestling crocodiles and wrangling snakes and doing all the awesome things that we get to do. I might have to wait until she’s a little bit older, maybe until she can walk,” he added.


Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris
Updated 24 February 2021

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

DUBAI: Egyptian short film “One Night Stand” is set to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Wednesday.

The screening will be part of the “Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” event, which started on Feb 23, that explores contemporary art and new movies.

“One Night Stand” is directed by Palestinian filmmaker Nour Abed and Egyptian director and producer Mark Lotfy.

The film is based on the directors’ real-life encounter in Beirut with a European man who was about to join the Kurdish militia to fight Daesh in Syria. 

The conversation was secretly recorded on a mobile phone and serves as the script for animated modeled situations and performative reconstructions of that night. 

“Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” will be streamed online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors can watch the livestream, that will also feature films, hosts discussions and performances, here


Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa inspire Hugo Comte’s first photo book

Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied
Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa inspire Hugo Comte’s first photo book

Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied

DUBAI: French fashion photographer Hugo Comte released his first career photography book this week. The new monograph shines the spotlight on all the women who have inspired him along the way, including part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid, British-Albanian popstar Dua Lipa and Russian supermodel Irina Shayk, among others.

Comte collaborated with art director David McKelvey on the 200-page-book and focused on featuring existing and never-before-seen portraiture of his muses in the new tome.

The book, which is self-published, celebrates the first five years of his photography career. 

In addition to previously published portraits, the book also features never-before-seen works — special pieces made in collaboration with airbrush artists to repaint his imagery, as well as unique computer-generated pieces.

Dua Lipa photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied

“I really wanted to create an object that is the symbol of my first years of work. I started to really feel that people created a sort of identity around me from that time period,” he said to WWD.

“I feel (portraiture) is the most intimate part of my work and where I express myself the best. Group shots don’t allow such intimacy. When I shoot an image, I always try to give the feeling that the woman is not being photographed but that she is looking through the camera, which gives a direct contact between the viewer and the muse,” he added.

The prolific imagemaker’s newly-released tome is untitled, instead the photographer wants to let his work speak for itself.

After arriving on the scene not long ago, he has quickly ascended to being one of the most-followed photographers on the Internet.

A page from the new book. Supplied

He is known for working with some of the world’s most-photographed women, such as Kendall Jenner, Vittoria Ceretti and Adut Akech. 

Memorably, he lensed Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” album artwork.

The launch of the book is accompanied by an exhibition at Los Angeles’ Tase Gallery, where Comte will have a one-week show from Feb. 25 – March 3 of seven selected works in the brand new gallery space. 

The Book is also available for sale on HugoComte.com. It is limited to 2,500 copies, the first 50 of which have been signed by Comte.