‘What’s a UN journalist?’: New film on Syrian refugees sparks ire for lack of Arab casting

Olivia Munn is set to play the lead in feature drama “Aleppo.” (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

‘What’s a UN journalist?’: New film on Syrian refugees sparks ire for lack of Arab casting

  • ‘The Newsroom’ actress Olivia Munn selected to star in drama ‘Aleppo’
  • Many online users are concerned that the film will center on a Western journalist, while the Syrian refugee will simply be seen as an extra

DUBAI/LONDON: “What is a UN journalist?” asked the Twitterverse on Friday after the announcement came that actress Olivia Munn would be playing a UN reporter alongside a Syrian refugee in the feature film titled “Aleppo.”

It’s been announced that US actress Olivia Munn is set to play the lead in the feature drama, a story about a Syrian refugee and UN journalist (Munn), who are brought together by their escape from war-afflicted Syria. 

Many online users are concerned that the film will center on a Western journalist, while the Syrian refugee will simply be seen as an extra - given that the job of a UN journalist simply does not exist and will ironically be played by an actress known for her role as a journalist in Aaron Sorkin’s hit show “The Newsroom.”

“Jesus Christ. Firstly, there’s no such thing as a ‘UN journalist’; secondly there was no UN in those last terrifying months of Aleppo, and the only journalists around were Syrians,” Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill tweeted.

“How any film about Aleppo can centre anyone but brave Syrians is insane. Who writes this s***?”

Nada Homsi, a Beirut-based Syrian reporter and producer for NPR tweeted: “Hello Hollywood I’m Syrian and a journalist and would love to become a movie star, so would many other Syrians, also ‘UN journalists’ aren’t a thing. Hire us!”

Others weren't pleased with Munn’s casting, and have taken to social media to express their discontent.

“The onslaught on Aleppo was one of the most traumatic events for Syrians in Syria and for the diaspora,” wrote one user on Twitter following the news. “Spinning the tragedy to center it around some hypothetical journalist for a Westerner to star in is disgusting,” they added.

Another user wrote: “Oh yay a ‘Syrian refugee drama’ that is actually about a white lady. Just what we need, another white savior movie.”

“Just call it ‘The White Savior,’ why muck about?” added another.

“Aleppo,” which is currently in pre-production in Los Angeles, will be directed by Brazilian filmmaker David Schurman.

The casting of the Syrian starring character has yet to be announced.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, many films and documentaries have been made about the tragedy, including “For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab’s critically-acclaimed documentary.


Publicis Groupe veteran Kamal Dimachkie leaves as new successor is named

Updated 20 October 2020

Publicis Groupe veteran Kamal Dimachkie leaves as new successor is named

  • Dimachkie’s career spans three decades of leadership and accomplishment in international and regional markets
  • Shoueiry founded the agency’s Social Content Lab and played a key role in cultivating digital design thinking across the region

RIYADH: Publicis Groupe MEA today announced the departure of Kamal Dimachkie, chief operating officer, Publicis Communications, UAE and Lower Gulf. Dimachkie is a senior executive who joined Leo Burnett in February 1985. The company has appointed Samer Shoueiry to assume the role in conjunction with his current responsibilities as chief digital officer, Publicis Communications, Middle East from Dec. 1. Dimachkie’s decision to leave comes after 33 years with the company. He will leave his current position on Dec. 31 and continue to act in a consultative capacity until June 2021 in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Dimachkie’s career spans three decades of leadership and accomplishment in international and regional markets including the US, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

Raja Trad, executive chairman at Publicis Groupe MEA said: “I respect Kamal’s decision. He has been a friend and a colleague for over three decades, and not just I but the entire Publicis Groupe family will miss him. His tenure at the Groupe has been characterized by a clear commitment to values that are central to our philosophy. Kamal’s adept leadership propelled the agency to new heights — we won more than 250 accolades and added numerous international and local clients to our roster. I want to thank him for his immeasurable contribution to the Groupe and wish him all the best for his professional future.”

Dimachkie added: “Leo Burnett and Publicis Groupe have been my life for the past 33 years, and I am proud to have been a part of a glorious journey during which I have had the opportunity to serve the company in different roles in six countries, to have contributed to numerous clients and raised the bar internally and within the industry. Part of this has been the joy of working with a wonderful team and leadership, whom I have partnered with, learnt from and shall forever call my friends and brothers in arms. I am grateful to have lived the glory days of advertising with one of the best agencies in the world and to have worked with some of the most inspiring and creative people. I look forward to working with Samer on the upcoming transition and wish him success in his new role.”

Shoueiry, who will take on Dimachkie’s role, has over 21 years of experience across business, design and innovation. He has consistently delivered a robust performance in Publicis’ Experience Design and Experience Strategy, founded the agency’s Social Content Lab and played a key role in cultivating digital design thinking across the region.

Commenting on his appointment, Trad said: “Samer has a record of leadership and value creation, deep experience in generating groundbreaking brand experiences, as well as a focus on strategic design, innovation excellence and a strong technological footing. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him to drive our digital transformation in the region and support the spread of innovation through investments in our people, technology, platforms and tools. Together, we will ensure that we continue to move our business forward in the Connected Age through a data-led, digital-first approach.”

Shoueiry further added: “Kamal has built a strong foundation for future growth, including strengthening our team and expanding our scope of work. The current climate has accelerated digital transformation globally, and we are looking at a future where online and offline coexist to augment consumer experience in an interconnected brand universe. E-commerce is a necessity, digital equities are your flagship stores, search and social your new outdoor. With this new beginning, I will focus on further strengthening our creative strategy-to-results development to offer the best consumer-centric experiences and build brand value.”