In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

‘Game of Thrones’ topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access to HBO’s streaming services.
‘Game of Thrones’ topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access to HBO’s streaming services.
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Updated 17 April 2021

In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

‘Game of Thrones’ topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access to HBO’s streaming services.
  • 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.

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.




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)

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.’”


New York-based photographer Jinane Ennasri’s new photobook is a celebration of Morocco

New York-based photographer Jinane Ennasri’s new photobook is a celebration of Morocco
The 50-page photobook is a collection of images captured in the Northern region of Morocco. Supplied
Updated 16 May 2021

New York-based photographer Jinane Ennasri’s new photobook is a celebration of Morocco

New York-based photographer Jinane Ennasri’s new photobook is a celebration of Morocco

DUBAI: “A gift to Morocco and the rest of the world,” is  how New York-based photographer Jinane Ennasri describes her new photobook, “Live From Morocco.” 

The new photobook focuses on sharing the diverse beauty and culture of the North African country by way of grainy, pastel-tinged film photographs of people and everyday life in the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Fes, Oujda, Berkane, Al-Hoceima and the photographer’s birth city Taza.

The candid photos were shot betewen 2016 and 2019. Supplied

The candid photos, which were shot and collected between 2016 and 2019, capture the Northern region of Morocco in its rawest and purest form. “I find it beautiful that modernization and imported technology have not distorted Morocco to the extent of losing its substance or its essence,” shares Ennasri with Arab News. “Morocco has accepted these things and made a place for them, while safeguarding its sense of values and its history.”

Its 50-pages take readers on a journey through tiny villages, where older Moroccan men congregate with their bicycles, and through the turquoise Mediterannean waters where young sun-drenched men are diving from rocks. 

The candid photos depict the Northern region of Morocco in its rawest and purest form. Supplied

But the photobook does much more than depict everyday street life. By simply capturing the country how it is, Ennasri’s photo-journalistic approach encapsulates Moroccan people as complex subjects while challenging the false idea of the monolithic Arab experience. 

The author and shutterbug is in the throng of new Moroccan photographers who are redefining what it truly means to be Moroccan while pushing back against stereotypes.

“Live From New York” is Ennasri’s second photobook. Supplied

The 25-year-old, who first picked up a camera in 2012, reveals that “Live From Morocco” is a deeply personal project for her. “I’ve always felt obligated to make sure people knew where I came from,” says Ennasri, who identifies as a Moroccan-American-Muslim. “I keep in mind to reflect it in my work somehow.”

Ennasri immigrated with her family from Morocco to the United States in 1999. Her family settled in Queens, New York, before relocating to Jersey City.

The photobook is available online and at both 255 centre street and 185 mulberry street in Soho, New York. Supplied 

The creative attended Pace University in Lower Manhattan where she pursued a degree in Finance & Economics. Shortly after graduating, she worked at a prestigious law firm in New York before leaving the 9-5 life behind to pursue her passion, photography, as a full-time career.

“Live From New York” is Ennasri’s second photobook. She released “Perspective,” which consists of 60 photographs of subjects in France, Morocco and the UAE in 2017.


Miss Philippines stuns in gown by Dubai-based designer on Miss Universe stage

Miss Philippines stuns in gown by Dubai-based designer on Miss Universe stage
The 24-year-old beauty queen wore a yellow, gem-encrusted Amato gown. Supplied
Updated 16 May 2021

Miss Philippines stuns in gown by Dubai-based designer on Miss Universe stage

Miss Philippines stuns in gown by Dubai-based designer on Miss Universe stage

DUBAI: Filipino model and beauty pageant titleholder Rabiya Mateo represented the Philippines at the Miss Universe 2020 Preliminary Show on Friday wearing a creation by Dubai-based couture house Amato. 

The beauty queen strutted down the runway wearing a single-shoulder, yellow gown that was hand-embroidered with thousands of tiny Swarovski crystals that shone even brighter underneath the stage lights. 

The caped tulle dress, which was inspired by the radiance of the Philippine sun which symbolizes positivity and optimism, marked Amato’s debut on a Miss Universe stage.

The gown was inspired by the radiance of the Philippine sun. Supplied

Mateo’s choice of color was not lost on pageant fans, who pointed out that the two previous Filipina Miss Universe winners wore the other colors of the Philippine flag when they won. Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach wore royal blue while Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray opted for red.

The 69th Miss Universe pageant finals will be held in Florida on May 16. Furne One, the Filipino designer behind Amato, is designing the gown which Mateo will wear during the finals.

Mateo will wear Amato during the Miss Universe pageant finals held on May 16. Supplied

“This is just the start of a more fruitful partnership with the Miss Universe organization,” said Josh Yugen, the CEO of the PR company that represents Amato. “We are excited to see more creations of the talented Furne One in the Miss Universe stage, and we can’t wait to see Rabiya slay the runway with another creation of Furne. I'm sure she's gonna make all the Filipinos proud,” he added.

If the 24-year-old wins, she will become the fifth woman from the Philippines to take home the prestigious crown.

 


Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid joins rally in New York

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid joins rally in New York
Bella Hadid is no stranger to speaking out about Palestine. File/AFP
Updated 16 May 2021

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid joins rally in New York

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid joins rally in New York

DUBAI: Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the world on Saturday to protest the Israeli airstrike attacks on Palestinians living in Gaza. Demonstrations took place across the Middle East, Europe, Canada, Australia and the US, with thousands of protestors marching on the streets with pro-Palestine signs. Some celebrities and influencers even decided to take part in the demonstrations, including part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

The 24-year-old catwalk is the daughter of real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, whose family fled Palestine as refugees in 1948. She joined a crowd of protesters in New York on Saturday who took to the streets of Bay Ridge for a demonstration.

The outspoken model wore a keffiyeh — a scarf with the traditional Palestinian print — around her head and shoulders and a face mask and waved a large Palestinian flag as she marched along with thousands of others.

Hadid took to Instagram to share images from the Free Palestine demonstration that had a turnout of nearly 2,000 protestors, according to reports.

“The way my heart feels... to be around this many beautiful, smart, respectful, loving, kind and generous Palestinians all in one place... it feels whole! We are a rare breed!” Hadid wrote alongside a series of images from the protests.

“It’s free Palestine til Palestine is free! P.S. The Palestinian drip is real (sic),” added Hadid, who memorably attended a Free Palestine rally in London back in 2016.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Earlier in the day, the model shared a throwback photo of her paternal grandparents’ wedding day, along with an image of her father as a boy next to his seven siblings and mom — after whom she was given her middle name Khair — noting how they “were taken out of their homes in Palestine in 1948, becoming refugees in Syria, then Lebanon, then Tunisia.”

“I love my family, I love my heritage, I love Palestine. I will stand strong to keep their hope for a better land in my heart. A better world for our people and the people around them. They can never erase our history. History is history!” she captioned the Instagram post.


Mohamed Hadid, Oscar-nominated Farah Nabulsi join hands for video on Jerusalem

Mohamed Hadid took part in the video. Here, he poses with daugher Gigi Hadid. (File/ AFP)
Mohamed Hadid took part in the video. Here, he poses with daugher Gigi Hadid. (File/ AFP)
Updated 15 May 2021

Mohamed Hadid, Oscar-nominated Farah Nabulsi join hands for video on Jerusalem

Mohamed Hadid took part in the video. Here, he poses with daugher Gigi Hadid. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Famous Palestinians have starred in a video expressing their love for the city of Jerusalem.

“Why do I love Jerusalem?” the opening sequence of the short video reads, in a message that is . translated into English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The monochrome clip features Mohamed Hadid, real estate mogul and father of models Gigi and Bella, as well as BAFTA-winning filmmaker Farah Nabulsi, whose short film was also nominated for an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, mountaineer Mostafa Salameh and actors Yasmine Al Massri and Eyas Younis, among other celebrities.

From its food, to its people, diversity and “the smell of the morning,” the figures all came together to reminisce about what makes Jerusalem so special.

“O Jerusalem, we love you!  Palestinian Personalities from around the world share their message of love and solidarity for Jerusalem. A message of Unity, love and hope for justice and peace for all. Seventeen Palestinians from different backgrounds get together in a simple message of love to Jerusalem. Actors, artists, musicians, chefs, journalists, sportswomen and men, unite their voices for the love of this historic city,” the caption of the video reads.


British star Sophie Turner shows support for refugees, women in conflict

 Actress Sophie Turner took to Instagram to show support for Women for Women International. (File/ AFP)
Actress Sophie Turner took to Instagram to show support for Women for Women International. (File/ AFP)
Updated 15 May 2021

British star Sophie Turner shows support for refugees, women in conflict

 Actress Sophie Turner took to Instagram to show support for Women for Women International. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: British actress Sophie Turner took to Instagram this weekend to highlight a heartwarming story about Muslim refugees in Scotland and also took part in a virtual sale of her fashion items for an organization that supports women caught in conflict around the world on Saturday.

Turner, who shot to fame for her role on TV’s “Game of Thrones” and who is married to US pop sensation Joe Jonas, shared a post on Instagram Stories on Saturday that highlights an incident in Glasgow that has gone viral on social media.

Turner shared a post about a deportation attempt that had been foiled by hundreds of Glaswegians this weekend, who surrounded the van of immigration officials in a residential street on Thursday to stop the detention of a group of Muslim male refugees during Eid Al-Fitr.

“These are our neighbors, let them go,” the crowd of protesters shouted.

The actress shared a post about an incident in Glasgow, where a community rallied to support refugees. Instagram

On Thursday, Police Scotland issued a statement saying the men in the van had been released.

It said: “In order to protect the safety, public health and well-being of all people involved in the detention and subsequent protest in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, today, Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, has, following a suitable risk assessment, taken the operational decision to release the men detained by UK Immigration Enforcement back into their community.”

Turner also took part in a virtual car boot sale this weekend, with proceeds from the event going to UK-based charity Women for Women International, for which Turner is an ambassador.

The organization supports women in conflict around the world and operates in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Kosovo and South Sudan, among other locations.

“As an ambassador for @womenforwomenuk I am proudly supporting their #VirtualCarBoot Sale, taking place this Saturday. Designers and fashion icons are emptying their wardrobes to donate items to raise money for women survivors of war. I will be joining them to sell three items too,” Turner wrote on Instagram before the event kicked off. The Hollywood star donated a suit by Annie Bing, a checkered romper by STAUD and a pair of Louis Vuitton slingback pumps.⁠⁠

The sale included more than 400 fashion and beauty items and experiences from such covete