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.


Luxury label Judith Leiber unveils clutches inspired by Gulf flags

Saudi Arabia-inspired Judith Leiber clutch. Supplied
Saudi Arabia-inspired Judith Leiber clutch. Supplied
Updated 03 March 2021

Luxury label Judith Leiber unveils clutches inspired by Gulf flags

Saudi Arabia-inspired Judith Leiber clutch. Supplied

DUBAI: Renowned US handbag brand Judith Leiber has unveiled a range of clutches inspired by the various flags of the GCC countries.

A  sartorial celebration of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar, each clutch required weeks of handwork and thousands of Swarovski crystals. In addition to being pleasing to the eye, the bags are also functional. 

Judith Lieber’s depiction of Saudi Arabia’s flag. Supplied

The embellished minaudières are priced at $3,800 and can be purchased exclusively through e-tailer Net-A-Porter.

Favored by the fashionable and the famous, Judith Lieber’s whimsical designs often take on playful and wonderful shapes. 

The UAE’s flag is depicted in this clutch. Supplied

The brand was established by Judith and her husband Gerson Leiber in 1963.

The designer passed away in 2018 aged 97.


Fans of K-Pop group BTS call for UAE concert with new art exhibition    

Fans of K-Pop group BTS call for UAE concert with new art exhibition    
Updated 03 March 2021

Fans of K-Pop group BTS call for UAE concert with new art exhibition    

Fans of K-Pop group BTS call for UAE concert with new art exhibition    

DUBAI: BTS fans in the UAE, who go by the name “BTS UAE Army,” are set to launch an art exhibition that pays tribute to the South Korean boy-band with the hopes of garnering enough attention to encourage the group to perform in the country.

Titled “BTS Meets Street Arts in the UAE,” the moving monument exhibition will be on display in different locations across the country starting March 25. 

According to a released statement, BTS UAE administrator Elareese Ramos said: “We intend to bring BTS to perform in the Middle East. We want them to notice that they are very much loved in the UAE as much as they are loved in America, Europe, Japan and other parts of the world.”

BTS’s fans in the UAE go by the name “BTS UAE Army.” (Supplied)

This will be the first time a Korean music artist will have a moving exhibition in the whole region. This is our chance to get united with the name of ARMY of the Middle East,” added Ramos. 

The fans are also gathering local artist to create art pieces inspired by the seven-member group.

BTS UAE Army has collaborated with Springs 15, a test-bed platform for individuals and small businesses seeking support to turn their creative ideas into reality, to launch this project.

BTS last performed in the UAE in 2016 as part of KCon Abu Dhabi and after their “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” world tour brought them to Saudi Arabia in 2019, the supporters in the UAE have high hopes that they will be back to perform in the region. 


Brazilian superstar Anitta sparkles in Yousef Al-Jasmi creation for new clip 

Brazilian superstar Anitta sparkles in Yousef Al-Jasmi creation for new clip 
Updated 03 March 2021

Brazilian superstar Anitta sparkles in Yousef Al-Jasmi creation for new clip 

Brazilian superstar Anitta sparkles in Yousef Al-Jasmi creation for new clip 

DUBAI: Brazilian superstar Anitta released a new music video on Tuesday in which she was spotted wearing a form-fitting, dazzling catsuit by Kuwaiti designer Yousef Al-Jasmi. 

The song is titled “Mi Niña,” which translates to “My Girl,” and  features Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma and Puerto Rican rappers Wisin and Myke Towers.

 

Anitta, who has over 51.7 million followers on Instagram, wore a green column gown with a high collar by the king of all things sparkly. 

The designer to the stars took to Instagram to share clips from the music video and pictures of Anitta wearing his creation. 

The 27-year-old singer is not the only celebrity fan the style guru has won over — Naomi Campbell, the Kardashian-Jenner clan, Sofia Richie and Kelly Rowland are also on his client list. 

This is not the first time Anitta has championed an Arab designer. 

For the 2019 Latin Grammy Awards, the music sensation turned heads wearing a Georges Hobeika crystal-embellished maxi skirt and a yellow crop top that featured a floor-trailing, oversized bow.


Two winners announced as US university celebrates Arab art with Khayrallah Prize

Cover of Rula Jurdi Abisaab’s Arabic novel, “In a Box of Light.” Supplied
Cover of Rula Jurdi Abisaab’s Arabic novel, “In a Box of Light.” Supplied
Updated 03 March 2021

Two winners announced as US university celebrates Arab art with Khayrallah Prize

Cover of Rula Jurdi Abisaab’s Arabic novel, “In a Box of Light.” Supplied

DUBAI: Since its foundation in 2010, the Khayrallah Center at North Carolina State University has pursued its mission to research, archive, and inform the public about the history of the Lebanese diaspora.

One of the center’s standout activities is celebrating Arab culture through the annual Khayrallah Prize, introduced in 2015.

“When you talk about the history of the community, culture is a central aspect of who they are, whether it is day-to-day culture, such as food, or high culture as we imagine it to be such as literature, poetry, and art,” center director, Dr. Akram Khater, told Arab News.

A native of Lebanon, he said: “We wanted to not only recognize but to encourage people to explore the idea of being in the diaspora artistically.”

New York-based filmmaker Zayn Alexander submitted a 10-minute film, “Abroad,” which he stars in and is the first movie he has directed. Supplied

For the 2020 edition of the prize – which received approximately 100 entries of visual art, plays, poetry, and film – two co-winners have been announced: The New York-based filmmaker Zayn Alexander, and Montreal-based poet and scholar Rula Jurdi Abisaab.

Born in Lebanon, Alexander submitted a 10-minute film, “Abroad,” which he stars in and is the first movie he has directed.

It tells the story of a Lebanese couple, Jad and Rania, who live in New York but are struggling to make it into the movie industry partly due to typecasting of Arab actors. Things take a serious turn when Jad decides to return to Lebanon.

Meanwhile, McGill University professor Abisaab’s Arabic novel, “In a Box of Light,” is centered on the theme of light and enlightenment.

Portrait of Rula Jurdi Abisaab. Supplied

Its protagonist is a young Lebanese woman who travels to New York to study filmmaking, encountering people of different backgrounds. Her relationship with an Iraqi man becomes central in her life but is problematic for her family back in a Lebanese village.

Khater noted that the winners’ individual works met the standard of the prize’s ethos.

“We’re looking for something that not only shows a high level of skill in their craft but also material that speaks to the themes of diaspora and immigration, exploring them with honesty, fresh eyes, and depth,” he added.

Portrait of Zayn Alexander. Supplied

Both recipients will share the $10,000 prize money. Due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020 was a challenging year for artistic communities around the world, which is why the Khayrallah Prize is a commendable effort to provide some financial help for artistic practitioners.

In normal circumstances, the prize winner would be invited to present their work at a ceremony in Beirut’s Sursock Museum. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a virtual event was expected to be held.


Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’ nominated for US literary award 

Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’ nominated for US literary award 
Updated 03 March 2021

Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’ nominated for US literary award 

Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’ nominated for US literary award 

DUBAI: US-Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa’s book “Against the Loveless World” is among the finalists for the 2020 Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award, organizers announced this week. 

Susan Abulhawa is a US-Palestinian writer. (Supplied)

The political activist’s book begins in the Hawalli neighborhood of Kuwait. It tells the story of a woman who has as many names as she has homes, moving from place to place as a child of exiles and becoming one herself during the Gulf War.

With her mother, brother, and grandmother Sitti Wasfiyeh, Nahr navigates a life through Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine, a home she knows so little of, and then an Israeli prison.

With dreams of marriage, of her own children and of freedom, Nahr’s fight to survive a world that is intent on testing her lands her in situations that could break the weak.

In an unthinkably harsh reality, and one that is a continuous experiment in resilience, Abulhawa pushes to the fore themes of identity and adaptability, posing the question: How can an oppressor know roots when they live by unearthing trees?

Read Arab News’ full review of “Against the Loveless World” here.

Abulhawa is competing against author Michele Harper for her book “The Beauty in Breaking” and writer Kiley Reid for her novel “Such a Fun Age.” 

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia museum established its literary award in 1950.

The last two winners for the award in 2019 were British author Edward Posnett and Canadian- American writer Witold Rybczynski for their books “Strange Harvests: The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects” and “Charleston Fancy: Little Houses and Big Dreams in the Holy City” respectively.