Jordan to get the first TikTok house in the region 

Jordan to get the first TikTok house in the region 
Beitna is a collaborative environment that aims to nourish and grow rising talents in the new digital age. (Picture credit: Designer Angham Khalil from ILNA Collective’s Instagram page)
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Updated 27 January 2021

Jordan to get the first TikTok house in the region 

Jordan to get the first TikTok house in the region 

DUBAI: ILNA Collective, a regional digital creative hub, is launching the first TikTok House in the Middle East based out of Amman, Jordan, and they are calling it “Beitna.”

According to the platform’s Instagram page, Beitna is a collaborative environment that aims to nourish and grow rising talents in the new digital age. The initiative will offer likeminded creatives an opportunity to meet, network and grow their following.

TikTok houses are made for content creators to get together and film their everyday content. But unlike the US’s fancy villas where influencers actually live together, the Amman-based mansion will be an incubator.

Participants have submitted their applications, and the selected TikTok-ers will be announced in February. 


In the shadow of the Iron Throne: ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years later

In the shadow of the Iron Throne: ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years later
Updated 17 min 19 sec ago

In the shadow of the Iron Throne: ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years later

In the shadow of the Iron Throne: ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years later
  • Middle Eastern fans look back on 10 years of a show that changed pop culture forever

RIYADH: Whether you loved it or hated it, followed it casually or watched every episode twice, chances are you’ve at least heard of the HBO smash hit series “Game of Thrones.” The eight-season fantasy epic, which began 10 years ago today, has secured its place in pop culture history as one of the most famous TV shows of all time.

The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the show began on April 17, 2011, to an audience of eager fans. Over the course of its run, the show has garnered 160 Emmy nominations, taking home 59 of them, making it one of the most successful shows in history.

Najla Hussam, an avid fantasy fan who cited Martin as one of her favorite authors, told Arab News that the show provided a way for her to bond with her father, who started reading A Song of Ice and Fire when the first volume was published in 1996.

“My dad tried for years to get me to read the novels, but I honestly just wasn’t that interested. When the TV series first came out, he asked me to watch the first season with him to see if he could get me to change my mind about it. I was hooked instantly, and once the season was over, I borrowed all the books from him so we could discuss our theories about how the future of the show might look,” she said.

The show has also gained notoriety for other reasons. Due to its exclusivity of being shown on the HBO network, the show is also famous for being the most pirated TV series of all time. Consistently throughout its run, Game of Thrones topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access internationally to HBO’s viewing and streaming services.

In the MENA region, the show was broadcast on the Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), with previous seasons being made available via the network’s on-demand service, OSN Play. Leading up to the start of season 7, OSN launched a 24-hour binge-watching channel, with all of the previous seasons being made available.

However, in the Arab world, the show saw a lot of pirating activity for another, unusual reason; the OSN network broadcast the show in its full, uncensored version, which caused a lot of fans to hunt online for a version that removed or glossed over some of the more controversial themes.

A man stands atop the ancient fortress of Ait-ben-Haddou, where scenes depicting the fictional city of Yunkai from ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed. (Getty Images)

Danya Assad, a 30-year old viewer from Riyadh, said that she only started watching the series around the start of the fourth season in 2013. She was only able to get into the fandom around the time censored episodes started to become available online.

“I heard about a Game of Thrones group online made up of fans who volunteered to censor some of the more unsavory content, and that was how I was able to start watching,” she said. “I loved the premise of the show, I’m a huge fan of fantasy television and I was definitely interested in watching, but the amount of sexual content and other disturbing themes really put me off.”

Assad said that while some fans might argue that she didn’t get the “authentic” experience of watching the show, she feels much more comfortable knowing that she was able to bypass the more controversial themes and still manage to enjoy the show.

“I loved Game of Thrones because of the political intrigue, for the richness and depth of the lore and the history, because of the unexpected plot twists like the Red Wedding, for things such as the fashion and the set dressing. By removing the gratuitous sexual content and some of the more violent scenes, I don’t think I missed out on much,” she said.

The show has seen its fair share of controversy over the past decade. Despite the accolades heaped on the show, the amount of violence portrayed in the series, including the deaths of many innocents and children, the sexual content, and heavy themes such as incest and rape, have drawn much ire from fans and critics alike.

“I couldn’t make it past the first few episodes, honestly,” Talal Ashour, another Saudi fantasy fan, said. “I can understand the appeal, but to me Game of Thrones just crossed way too many boundaries. It’s a beautifully crafted show, and I’m still amazed by certain aspects of it, like the CGI dragons or the fact that they created a whole new language for the Dothraki, but I couldn’t get passed the darker aspects of the show.”

But perhaps the biggest let-down for fans of the series was the ending, which many fans believe was a massive disappointment and a departure from the grandeur of the previous seasons.

“Game of Thrones ended for me after Season 7,” Hussam said. “The more they started to deviate from the books, the less I started to enjoy it. I think the writers did fine when they had more content from the original books to work with, but once they started doing their own thing, it all just went downhill.”

Martin, notorious among fans for being slow to produce new novels, published the latest book in A Song of Ice and Fire in 2011, the same year the show began. Martin told the press at the time that the novel had taken six years to write, and that a sixth novel out of a planned seven, “The Winds of Winter,” was still in the works.

“I think the writers thought they could go off what they had and that the sixth book would be out by the time the series caught up,” Assad said. “It’s such a shame that they couldn’t or wouldn’t delay the series until the book came out. A lot of fans were unhappy with the way the series ended. I feel like we deserved better.”

Assad is not alone in that. A change.org petition appealing to HBO with a request to remake the final season with “competent writers” began circulating online the day the final episode debuted, with almost 2 million people signing and the numbers still increasing two years later.

However, despite the controversies and the overall disappointment with the way the series ended, the show has retained a strong fanbase in the Middle East.

“I had a Game of Thrones-themed birthday party in 2019,” Hussam said. “I dressed up as Daenerys, all of my friends came in costume, and my cake was a replica of the box that held Dany’s dragon eggs in it, including three edible cake eggs. It’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

“I don’t think one bad season can ruin the whole series,” said Assad. “Even if the ending was disappointing, the other seasons are still incredible to behold. Maybe in time I’ll be able to go back and watch the show and enjoy it even more. And if the ending still disappoints me after the second time, I can always hold out hope for ‘The Winds of Winter.’”


Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
Updated 16 April 2021

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream

Meet the Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess living out his Disney dream
  • Louaye Moulayess on why ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is his most personal project yet

DUBAI: Lebanese animator Louaye Moulayess was born and raised in a divided nation. With Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon,” his latest major project, he had the chance to tell the story of a fictional land not unlike his own, and to lay out a path forward for how it may be united again.

“When I saw the screening of the film, I realized what the movie is about: It's about trust and what we can do if people come together. Coming from the Middle East, I really like that,” Moulayess tells Arab News. “You see all these different lands inspired from countless places, and basically you see them individually. But if they are so beautiful individually, what can they do if they come together?

Louaye Moulayess is a Lebanese animator. (Supplied)

“That message resonates a lot with me coming from Lebanon, as all this especially applies to Lebanon,” he continues. “I was really proud to be part of something that just tells that story. I like that message. I know It sounds simple, but if we can just show this to kids and families, for me, that would make me happy.”

“Raya and the Last Dragon,” directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, is set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, which is not based on the Middle East, but Southeast Asia. In this fantasy version of that region, humans and dragons once lived in harmony, before mistrust and political division tore the kingdom apart, causing the dragons to disappear and chaos to ensue. The film follows a princess named Raya who sets off on an adventure to unite the kingdom and bridge the gaps between the various warring factions.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is Moulayess’s latest major project. (Supplied)

Moulayess wants people in the Middle East watching the movie to apply the film’s message of togetherness and collaboration not only to politics, however, but to all aspects of life.

“It applies especially to Lebanon, but I don’t want just that. Yes, you can apply this politically, but you can also apply this to your (apartment) complex, you know what I mean? It can be global, but you can also apply it to your circle of friends. This is the appeal for me. It doesn't have to be political. It doesn't have to be big,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess himself started small — growing up primarily in the Lebanese village of Elissar. From a young age, sitting on the couch with his brothers and sisters, Moulayess fell in love with Disney movies, and saw their ability to convey a powerful message. He knew, even back then, that was what he wanted to do with his life.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada. (Supplied)

“I felt something good. I'm like, ‘I want to be part of this.’ That was the first step. The problem was, I didn't see anybody do art (among) my family and friends. So I started doing computer science. And since there was starting to be computer animation, I said, ‘Maybe I can do something with the computer.’ I did computer science for a year. Didn't work. I didn't like it. It wasn't for me, basically,” says Moulayess.

Moulayess started researching, trying to figure out how he could get from his small village on the Western edge of the Mediterranean to the halls of Disney or Pixar on the other side of the world.

One day, he stumbled upon someone who could possibly help him, an animator at Pixar in San Francisco. Overcoming his nervousness, he decided to send him a message out of the blue.

Moulayess worked on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2.” (Supplied)

“I was around 16 or 17. I emailed him and said, ‘Listen, I'm from Lebanon, this is the situation: I want to do animation. Can you help me?’ He was very kind, he replied right away. He told me, ‘Since you don't have a portfolio, try to go to this animation school in San Francisco. It’s expensive, so you’re going to have to have a job on the side.’ He just gave me a lot of good advice. And it's because of him that I made the decision to go to that school specifically,” says Moulayess.

When he’d completed his studies, he managed to land an internship at the place he had been dreaming of: Pixar.

“And guess who my mentor was? It was that animator. I said, ‘Hey, I want to show you something.’ I showed him the email I sent him when I was 16. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I'm here because of you.’ And it was honestly a great moment. It was like everything had aligned to have him as my mentor.”

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. (Supplied)

Moulayess went from working on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios, working on the “Ice Age” films, “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ferdinand,” before finding a home at Disney, first animating “Frozen 2” before taking on “Raya and the Last Dragon.” At Disney, Moulayess is not only able to add his own voice to the legacy of the greatest animation studio in history, he’s also able to thrive precisely because of his background and perspective.

“I'm very proud to be here because of the diversity that they try to push every single day,” he says. “They understand that diversity will bring more to the table. I grew up in Lebanon, and I saw movies that maybe somebody else didn't see or shows that somebody else didn't see, I read books, I saw Arabic calligraphy, I saw my culture, and I have stories to tell that my gym teacher used to tell me from the village where he grew up. I mean, who else has that stuff?

Moulayess worked on “Cars 2” at Pixar to Blue Sky Studios. (Supplied)

“At the studio, the chief creatives understand it's in their best interest to bring diversity because it means more stories, more personality. I think studios around the world are starting to understand this as well,” he continues.

In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which he considers his most personal project among the 15 films he has so far worked on, he was able to put himself in the film a little more literally than you may imagine. In fact, one of the most memorable bit characters in the film was entirely Moulayess’ creation.

“I'm gonna give you my process,” he says. “Basically, I get asked to do shots. And for fun ones, I like to shoot references of myself in the room. I put a tripod, and I just act out the performance as much as I can. I'm a terrible actor, but I try to hit the beats that I want to hit. There’s one character holding flowers who has a very comedic moment in the film. I feel it's me, I put myself in this character. I shot the references. The directors, Don and Carlos, were laughing for, say, two to three minutes. That made me happy. They said, ‘Do exactly that.’ So I animated him exactly to my reference video. I feel that it's me in the screen.”

Moulayess smiles. “I’m going to tell you the truth,” he says. “I’m incredibly lucky.”


REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air
Updated 16 April 2021

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air

REVIEW: Superhero comedy ‘Thunder Force’ is a lot of hot air
  • Netflix’s all-star movie has more holes than a supervillain’s scheme

LONDON: Back in January, when Netflix dropped a star-studded teaser trailer for its 2021 film slate, one of the most enticing snippets was for “Thunder Force” — a superhero buddy comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer as a crime-fighting duo determined to clean up the mean streets of Chicago. The brief glimpses promised a self-aware nod to big-budget, special-effects-heavy blockbusters, but with a family-friendly air and a supporting cast with serious comedy chops (Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale and Pom Klementieff).

Sadly, if you saw that trailer, then you’ve seen most of the movie’s best bits already. The central premise of “Thunder Force” offers up the chance of a very different, very funny take on the superhero genre. Rough-around-the-edges forklift operator Lydia (McCarthy) is visiting her overachieving, estranged best friend Emily (Spencer) and accidentally sets off a machine in the latter’s lab, granting herself the power of superstrength that Emily had been developing for five years. After the obligatory training montage (Emily has the power to turn invisible), the pair must reconcile and protect Chicago from the ‘Miscreants’ — villains with superpowers — terrorizing the population.

“Thunder Force” is on Netflix. (Supplied)

McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone serves as writer and director (the fifth time he has helmed a movie starring his wife), but can’t seem to get past low-brow physical comedy into anything more substantial. With the genre so overpopulated by the (mostly) very good Marvel movies, “Thunder Force” needed to be smart, funny and different if it was to stand out. It’s none of those things.

McCarthy and Spencer do have decent chemistry, but the script serves as little more than a string of opportunities for McCarthy to do impressions, overly labored running gags, (literal) toilet humor, or simply crude crotch jokes. Klementieff, at least, has some fun as powerful miscreant Laser, and Cannavale goes full pantomime baddie as The King, but it’s tough to imagine what convinced Netflix regular Bateman to say yes to the role of pincer-armed henchman The Crab. It’s a character that bears more than a few similarities to the movie as a whole: not especially funny, not really dark – just bafflingly weird.


Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere
Updated 16 April 2021

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere

Dubai’s LPM: Great food in a relaxed atmosphere
  • Sampling some simple French classics at the award-winning Dubai restaurant

DUBAI: The best way to describe eating at Dubai’s LPM — the restaurant formerly known as La Petite Maison — is to compare it to having a meal inside an exquisite art gallery.

The interiors are washed in light, natural colors, with beige leather seats and white linen tablecloths, giving it an elegant and sophisticated vibe. In fact, it felt as if we had been transported to a café in France.

The interiors are washed in light, natural colors, with beige leather seats and white linen tablecloths. (Supplied)

The white walls are bathed in warm lighting and adorned with original artworks. Wooden boxes and modernist sculptures are dotted throughout the whole area. It truly felt like we were eating at a gallery or an swanky house. But while LPM is definitely high-end and refined, it’s also cozy and welcoming.

As you approach your table, you’ll notice that it’s not empty. A pair of juicy tomatoes and zesty lemons are waiting for you. To be honest, we thought it was part of the decor until one of the waiters explained that guests can cut up the tomatoes, squeeze some lemons on top and season with salt and pepper as an appetizer as they wait for their food. Staff regularly circulate with a large basket of bread, baked in-house, too.

The roast baby chicken is marinated in lemon and cooked to perfection. (Supplied)

Even these little touches are delicious — fresh and of high quality. So it’s no surprise that the venue was recognized as the best French restaurant in Dubai by Time Out in its latest awards.

One of the simplest but most delectable dishes we had was the poivrons marinés à l’huile d’olive. The sweet red peppers marinated in olive oil were seasoned with garlic and paprika, translating all the vegetable’s natural flavors while adding a hint of sourness and smokiness.

This dish is snails with garlic butter and parsley. (Supplied)

The next dish we selected is not for the squeamish — and I speak as one who’s been terrified by bugs and creepy-crawlies since childhood. You might have guessed, it’s the escargots de Bourgogne (snails with garlic butter and parsley), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite my misgivings.

The texture of this protein-rich dish is unlike anything else. It could be described as akin to mushrooms, but the snails are meatier and tenderer. There is a hint of saltiness mixed with the creaminess of butter. This dish is definitely a must-try at LPM — a French classic beautifully done.

The gâteau au fromage frais (cheesecake) with berry compote is light and flavorful. (Supplied)

Another highly recommended option is the coquelet au citron confît — one of the best chicken dishes I have ever had in Dubai. The roast baby chicken is marinated in lemon and cooked to perfection; the meat itself is so juicy and tender it feels like you are eating pâté or chicken purée. The delicate flavor of the chicken is perfectly complemented by the smokiness of the roast.

For a perfect finish to your meal, we would definitely recommend the gâteau au fromage frais (cheesecake) with berry compote. It is light and flavorful and the pronounced vanilla flavor of the creamy, silky cheese contrasts with the fruitiness and sour tang of the berry compote.

The sweet red peppers marinated in olive oil were seasoned with garlic and paprika, translating all the vegetable’s natural flavors while adding a hint of sourness and smokiness. (Supplied)

LPM uses simple ingredients including salt, pepper, lemon, parsley, olive oil and butter to elevate its mix of southern French and Italian cuisine — emphasizing their intrinsic flavors. But what really sold us on the place, apart from the great food, is the casual atmosphere. It’s homey, welcoming and artistic, and a real change from many of Dubai’s other high-end restaurants. And while several of the dishes are expensive, there is plenty on offer at a cost that won’t leave your wallet empty.


Forbes recognizes young Pakistani chef focused on empowering women

Forbes recognizes young Pakistani chef focused on empowering women
Zahra Khan was recently listed on the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ list. (Supplied)
Updated 16 April 2021

Forbes recognizes young Pakistani chef focused on empowering women

Forbes recognizes young Pakistani chef focused on empowering women
  • Zahra Khan is a mother of two who runs Feya cafes and shops in London, employs 30 full-time staff and donates 10% of profits to coaching for women
  • Khan launched Feya Cares at start of pandemic in collaboration with Young Women’s Trust, which works to achieve economic justice for young women

RAWALPINDI: A Pakistani chef and entrepreneur who runs her own cafe and shop in London has been recognized for her achievements in retail and e-commerce by Forbes, which put her on its prestigious “30 under 30” list this month.

Zahra Khan, who is 30 years old and the mother of two girls, is the founder of two of London’s culinary hotspots — Feya Cafe and DYCE. She is a graduate of the Tante Marie Culinary Academy and is committed to encouraging female equality in business.

Khan opened Feya Cafe on Bond Street just months after the birth of her first daughter in 2018. The award-winning dessert parlor DYCE opened soon after, followed by the flagship Feya Knightsbridge in December 2019.

Speaking to Arab News, Khan said she was nominated for the Forbes list by her team and did not expect to be recognized.

“I had just woken up and I knew the list was going to be released [on April 9], but they were meant to send an email as well and my inbox was empty, so I was a bit disappointed,” Khan said in a phone interview. “But then I pulled up the list anyway to see. As I started scrolling down, I saw my name. It was an amazing feeling!”
 

Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ honoree Zahra Khan at her office desk in London. (Supplied)

This is how the Forbes listing describes Khan:

“Immigrant Zahra Khan defied Pakistani cultural stereotypes and launched a career in the UK focused on empowering women. The chef and mother of two runs Feya cafes and shops. She employs 30 full-time staff, hires female illustrators to design packaging and donates 10 percent of retail profits toward professional coaching for women.”

Khan said she initially went to university to study medicine but then turned towards the culinary world, graduating from the Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking, England, before launching Feya, whose wares include chocolates, specialty spices and jams.

Khan has been nominated for the NatWest Everywomen Awards 2020 (The Artemis Award), London Business Mother of the Year 2020 (Venus Awards), Business Owner of the Year and Businesswoman of the Year (National Women’s Business Awards 2020) and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 (Federation of Small Businesses UK).

“In Pakistan, we don’t have as many opportunities for women as men. I recognize that and I also realize that I’m lucky that I’ve got the opportunity to actually move and experience living in different countries,” said Khan, who studied at Ryerson University in Toronto before going to culinary school in the UK.

“It was an eye opener, I learned so much and I wanted to bring about change when I was in the position to give back.”

 

Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ honouree Khan tackles a recipe in her kitchen in London. (Supplied)

Khan launched Feya Cares at the start of the pandemic in collaboration with the Young Women’s Trust, a feminist organization in London working to achieve economic justice for young women.

Feya Cares tackles issues faced by women within the professional space, such as racial and gender inequality; 10 percent of the profits from the sale of Feya Retail products are donated to the Young Women’s Trust. Feya Retail is the line she launched around the same time that features various luxury products such as teas, jams and chocolates.

“Every woman can run her own business, even if it is a small-scale, home-based venture,” said Khan. “I want to show that it can be done.”