‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise
Along with comedy, it has been his mother who has been the biggest support in his life. He paid tribute to her in his first Netflix special, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.” (Supplied)
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Updated 09 December 2021

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise

‘I’m still pinching myself’ — Palestinian comedian Mo Amer’s remarkable rise
  • With his second Netflix special just released, a DC blockbuster on the way, and his own sitcom due soon, the stand-up’s years of hard graft are paying off in a big way

DUBAI: At the end of his latest Netflix special, after an hour of uproarious laughter, Palestinian comedian Mo Amer walked back on to the stage and decided to tell a very personal story.

“The crowd was going bananas, and I looked around at the design of the stage. On one side was the Banksy art of the Palestinian girl holding a balloon, on the other was the West Bank’s wall, and I thought I’d tell my first experience of going to Palestine — the first time I ever went to go visit my grandparent’s house,” Amer tells Arab News.

The trip occurred in 2009, before Amer’s star had ascended to the heights it has reached today, when he is not only a headline comedian across the world, but also a co-star in the Golden Globe-winning series “Ramy,” the star of the upcoming DC blockbuster film “Black Adam” opposite Dwayne ‘The Rock Johnson, and the co-creator, along with “Ramy” star Ramy Youssef, of his own upcoming scripted Netflix series, loosely based on his own experiences.




“Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” streaming now on Netflix. (Supplied)

Amer, 40, moved to the US from Kuwait when he was 12 years old. His father died when he was 14, which sent him spiraling downwards, a hole he was only able to rise out of when he discovered comedy. Along with comedy, it has been his mother who has been the biggest support in his life. He paid tribute to her in his first Netflix special, 2018’s “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.”

On that trip to Burin and Nablus — the villages of his ancestors — after a delicious meal with his extended family, he looked out the window and saw a mosque that his cousin told him was hundreds of years old. Amer was intent on praying in it and set out from the house only to find a group of men who insisted that he perform the call to prayer for the village that evening.

After some hesitation, Amer accepted the men’s request. After he finished, a man came into the mosque to find out whose voice he had just heard bellowing out across the town. He knew everyone in the village, he said but he didn’t know Amer, and ask who his father was. When Amer told him, the man looked stunned.




Amer, 40, moved to the US from Kuwait when he was 12 years old. (Supplied)

“Do you know who installed the sound system in this mosque? Your father did,” the man told Amer.

“It was just by coincidence that the special became about my father,” Amer says. “It was never scripted, and was not intended to go in that direction. I just knew then that this story would lend itself well to what I was talking about as an overall connective tissue.”

When Amer got home from shooting what would become “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” streaming now on Netflix, he remembered that he had the footage of that trip somewhere, and through “a miracle,” he managed to track it down on a friend’s old hard drive two days before they had to submit the final film to Netflix.




Sharing the experience of his parents, and of the Palestinian people, has always been a huge part of Amer’s comedy, and his own identity. (Supplied)

When they finished editing the special, the first person that he showed it to was his mother. On the screen, Amer recounted the story to the audience with tears in his eyes. When he looked up to see her reaction, Amer’s mother was sobbing, too.

“When she saw that, an encore memorializing my father, and then saw the special was dedicated to him, it was a really cool moment. She just lost it,” Amer says.

Sharing the experience of his parents, and of the Palestinian people, has always been a huge part of Amer’s comedy, and his own identity.




Amer is now at a point in his career where he’s able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before. (Supplied)

“It’s just who I am. Once you see the experience through your parents’ eyes, and what they’ve gone through, it’s hard to shake that,” he says.

Amer is now at a point in his career where he’s able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before. He’s also doing it through an artistic medium that, when it’s done right, is perhaps the most empathetic and soul-baring, allowing viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an incredibly intimate way.

“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money. I could care less about money,” he says. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”

Amer has never forgotten the mission he set for himself when he first adjusted the microphone to his tall frame — the days in his early teens when he first began sharing his comedy, and found that no one was telling stories about his experience, or the experience of Arabs of any descent.

“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap — a massive, gaping hole,” he says. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, “OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”

Decades later, while Amer is still intent on sharing the stories of both his family and his people, part of the real joy of this part of his career is that he no longer needs to introduce himself to every audience. With “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” the crowd knows both him and his work well, allowing Amer to spend the bulk of the time telling jokes about things far outside the realm of his identity.

“I’ve already told my story. Now I can just be a stand-up comedian, talking about whatever comes to mind. That’s something that I’ve always been waiting for. I’m not just explaining where I come from, and to me that’s really fulfilling,” Amer says. “I can just be me, and then at the end showcase a small village with 2,000 people in it where my family comes from, a bit of seasoning that I can pinch on at the end. And honestly, I’m still pinching myself that I’m there. I’m speechless.

“My first special ended up being about my mother, and the second one, completely unplanned, was about my father. It feels like I’ve done the biggest things I wanted to do,” he continues. “I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Everything else is just gravy.”


Record-breaking 555.55 carat black diamond unveiled at Sotheby’s Dubai

Record-breaking 555.55 carat black diamond unveiled at Sotheby’s Dubai
Updated 17 January 2022

Record-breaking 555.55 carat black diamond unveiled at Sotheby’s Dubai

Record-breaking 555.55 carat black diamond unveiled at Sotheby’s Dubai

DUBAI: Gemstone collectors now have the chance to own the largest cut diamond in the world. Titled the “The Enigma,” the Guinness World Record-breaking rare black diamond made its public debut at Sotheby’s Dubai on Jan. 17, where it will remain on show until Jan. 20. Weighing in at a whopping 555.55 carats, the unique jewel will be on view at the Dubai Diamond Exchange, before making its way to Los Angeles and London, where it will be opened to bidding online from Feb. 3-9.

The carbonado black diamond is an extremely rare natural occurrence. Dating back to 2.6 to 3.8 billion years ago, they are said to have been formed from a meteoric impact or from a diamond-bearing asteroid that collided with Earth. It contains traces of nitrogen and hydrogen abundant in space, as well as osbornite, a mineral uniquely present in meteors.

In addition to its record-breaking size, the jewel is imbued with numerical significance. It’s shape is inspired by the Middle Eastern palm-shaped symbol, the Hamsa – a symbol of protection from the “evil eye.” The Hamsa is associated with the number five, and the diamond is not only 555.55 carats in size, but it also contains exactly 55 facets.

“We are honored that Dubai has been chosen as the first stop for this exceptional rarity and are thrilled to play a part in its journey, which began so many millions of years ago,” said Katia Nounou Boueiz, Head of Sotheby’s UAE, in a released statement.

The diamond will be available to purchase with cryptocurrency, a first in the UAE.

“This is the first time we are introducing our cryptocurrency offering in the UAE, a move that is in line with the government’s own commitment to exploring new digital, technological and scientific advances. Unveiling this one-of-a-kind stone - both in our DIFC gallery and at the unparalleled Dubai Diamond Exchange - is a clear continuation of our dedication to showcasing the best of the best in the UAE,” added Boueiz.

“The Enigma” is previously unseen on the market and has never been exhibited to the public before.


A taste of what’s to come: What food trends can we expect in 2022?

A taste of what’s to come: What food trends can we expect in 2022?
Updated 17 January 2022

A taste of what’s to come: What food trends can we expect in 2022?

A taste of what’s to come: What food trends can we expect in 2022?

DUBAI: Entrepreneurs and husband and wife duo Luma Makhlouf and Haider Al-Assam are the founders of Dubai’s hugely popular Maiz Tacos and Good Burger. Here, Makhlouf pens her thoughts on the food trends we can expect to see in the region in 2022.

Coming off the back of a challenging year largely centered around the pandemic, we are declaring 2022 the year of health and rebuilding.  Looking forward, food trends will incorporate a return to local produce, entertaining and sustainable food practices.

 Luma Makhlouf. Supplied 

Homegrown produce

More than ever before, consumers are focusing on their health and are looking to strengthen their immune system, making fresh local produce their preferred choice. What used to be an industry that knew no borders, the pandemic meant importing food became more expensive and less timely. Returning to basics, consumers will choose organic, local produce and clean ingredients. Post pandemic, some of the most successful brands are the homegrown ones that built up their resilience under tough conditions. Local suppliers offering authentic “farm to fork” produce will resonate with consumers seeking to focus on their health.

Return to entertaining

As people start to celebrate events they missed out on during the pandemic, catering demand is set to increase. Consumers are looking to create new, out of the box experiences and are therefore seeking tailored, personalized catering solutions. We are seeing increased corporate marketing budgets as demand for events such as product launches increase in line with the reduction of pandemic restrictions.

Sustainability

Photo: Getty Images

Consumers are increasingly choosing sustainable produce as they become more aware of their carbon footprint and the impact of their choices. As the population increases, so too will food production. Aquaculture and hydroponic farming are two aspects that will help the UAE in particular create a more sustainable food industry, and consumers will favor the health benefits of fresher, healthier produce. An increase in plant-based diets means consumers’ choices will be less taxing on the environment and they will be looking for ethical, sustainable ingredients that can help them achieve their health goals.

The increase in demand for healthy, nutritious and sustainably sourced foods will shape the food industry this year. Consumers will look for foods and catering options with nutritional benefits as healthy eating becomes mainstream and entertaining with our loved ones finally returns.


‘I’m really happy to represent my roots,’ says French-Tunisian ‘Scream’ star Sonia Ben Ammar

‘I’m really happy to represent my roots,’ says French-Tunisian ‘Scream’ star Sonia Ben Ammar
Sonia Ben Ammar was born in France to a Tunisian father and a Polish mother. Instagram
Updated 17 January 2022

‘I’m really happy to represent my roots,’ says French-Tunisian ‘Scream’ star Sonia Ben Ammar

‘I’m really happy to represent my roots,’ says French-Tunisian ‘Scream’ star Sonia Ben Ammar

DUBAI: French-Tunisian actress Sonia Ben Ammar is joining the ever-growing list of rising Arab stars working their way up the ladder in Hollywood, such as Ramy Youssef, Sofia Boutella, Dali Benssalah and Mena Messoud to name a few.

The 22-year-old recently made her Hollywood debut in the fifth instalment of the “Scream” franchise, which hit theaters on Jan. 14.

With French-Tunisian heritage, Ben Ammar is the first Arab main character in a “Scream” film, performing alongside the most diverse cast in the history of the franchise.

“I’m just really happy to be a part of it and represent my roots and I’m excited for people to watch it,” Ben Ammar told Arab News.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia Ammar (@itsnotsonia)

“I’m really looking forward to films representing more of real life and the people and the places we live in so I am really stoked (about) that,” she added.

In her second film role and first Hollywood feature, the actress plays the part of Liv McKenzie, a teenager who is targeted by Ghostface, a mysterious masked killer on the loose. Starring alongside “Scream” veterans Courtney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell, Ben Ammar makes an impressive debut despite her aversion to horror films.

She said that “Scream” is a new experience for her because, unlike the film’s loyal fanbase, she does not like scary movies.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia Ammar (@itsnotsonia)

“Doing something that scares me and being a part of that was interesting,” she said, adding “But I think being part of the behind-the-scenes process of being in it really takes a lot of the scary elements out of it. When I saw the movie  (at) the screening for the first time, I was jumping up from my seat.”

Although “Scream” marks Ben Ammar’s first high-profile Hollywood gig as an actress, it is not the Paris-born actress’s first foray into the film industry.

Ben Ammar, who is the daughter of Tunisian film director Tarek Ben Ammar and Polish-born actress Beata, previously starred in Guillaume Canet’s French-language film “Jappeloup,” as well as the stage musical “1789: Les Amants de la Bastille.”

Before following in the footsteps of her parents, the multi-hyphenate made headway in the fashion world as a model, fronting campaigns for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu and Chanel.


Actress Melissa Barrera talks ‘Scream 5’ wearing a statement jumpsuit by Elie Saab

Actress Melissa Barrera talks ‘Scream 5’ wearing a statement jumpsuit by Elie Saab
The Mexican actress wore a black Elie Saab jumpsuit to promote the new film. Instagram
Updated 16 January 2022

Actress Melissa Barrera talks ‘Scream 5’ wearing a statement jumpsuit by Elie Saab

Actress Melissa Barrera talks ‘Scream 5’ wearing a statement jumpsuit by Elie Saab

DUBAI: “Scream” will hit theaters in Saudi Arabia this week, more than 25 years after the late Wes Craven’s slasher classic thrilled fans. The new film is the fifth title in the cult series and is a direct sequel to 2011’s “Scream 4.” Directed by filmmakers Matt Bettinello-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, “Scream” sees franchise mainstays Courteney Cox and Neve Campbell reprise their roles, while newcomers include Sonia Ben Ammar, Melissa Barerra, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette and Jack Quaid.

“Scream” follows a new Ghostface-masked assailant who begins targeting teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town of Woodsboro’s past.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by laChambre (@lachambrehq)

Following the hotly-anticipated movie’s successful release in the US on Jan. 14, Barrera sat down with show host Kelly Clarkson to promote the new film and to discuss her role in the latest installment of the “Scream” franchise. For her appearance on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” the rising Hollywood star decided to don one of the most versatile pieces in fashion — the jumpsuit.

The 31-year-old exuded casual glam wearing a black power jumpsuit from Lebanese couturier Elie Saab’s Resort 2022 collection, which was titled “Infinite Horizons.” The design featured short, layered sleeves, white stitching throughout and a delicate bow on the neckline. The loose track-suit style jumpsuit boasted a black stripe running down the side. The Mexican star paired the look, which was put together by stylist Penny Lovell, with open-toe pumps and a bedazzled Ghostface-shaped hairclip to secure her raven lengths.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Lilly Keys (@lilly_keys)

The disco-era favorite that is undergoing a renaissance on the runways — it popped up on the Spring 2022 catwalks of Alberta Ferretti, Etro, Isabel Marant and Fendi — is slowly migrating to the red carpet and photo calls.

Meanwhile, the Monterrey-born star is certainly one to watch. For the past few years, Barrera has split her time between Mexico and the US. After growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, she studied in New York at Tisch School of the Arts, then returned to Mexico to star in telenovela “Siempre tuya Acapulco.” The Clinique brand ambassador moved back to the US to film the TV drama series “Vida” and later to star as Vanessa in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s screen adaptation of the musical “In the Heights.”


Quirky Saudi vintage collector lays down a challenge to the fast-fashion world

Alia Kurdi, a 27-year-old fashion enthusiast, uses shirts from her grandfather’s Versace collection that are often loud and bright in her outfits and receives compliments for her style. (Supplied)
Alia Kurdi, a 27-year-old fashion enthusiast, uses shirts from her grandfather’s Versace collection that are often loud and bright in her outfits and receives compliments for her style. (Supplied)
Updated 16 January 2022

Quirky Saudi vintage collector lays down a challenge to the fast-fashion world

Alia Kurdi, a 27-year-old fashion enthusiast, uses shirts from her grandfather’s Versace collection that are often loud and bright in her outfits and receives compliments for her style. (Supplied)
  • ‘Re-accessorize everything, borrow from your friends and lend them stuff. The perfect way to not buy for occasions’

JEDDAH: A young Saudi fashion enthusiast is trying to make people aware of vintage fashion and the footprint that fast fashion has on the world.

Alia Kurdi is a 27-year-old fashion enthusiast who collects, designs, and sells vintage clothes in Saudi Arabia. She has always felt that, growing up, the only way she could express herself was through her clothes,
“There weren’t many venues for self-expression, and because I am a bit of a radical person, I began showing my personality through my clothes, and that is when I began building this connection to different pieces.”
The appreciation of vintage clothes ran within the Kurdi family. She told Arab News that her grandfather collected Versace shirts that were often loud and bright, “He didn’t dress like the typical Arab man. I still wear some of his shirts today, and people compliment them and are often shocked to find out that they belong to my grandfather.”

I feel like I already have a connection with a piece; I feel called to a store, and immediately from a distance, I know the thing I am going to buy as if these pieces speak to me. Usually, they are extremely special, whether the texture or the pattern.

Alia Kurdi

People in Saudi Arabia have always recycled their used items through charity.
However, the situation has changed as conversations around resale and pre-owned pieces have evolved.
Kurdi said that she began shopping mindfully ever since she learned the footprint that fast fashion had on the globe; that is when she started venturing into vintage and second-hand shops. The collector said that once she had started, she never looked back, and 2022 marks her fast-fashion-free seventh year.
Kurdi advised people thinking of going into fast fashion to start with baby steps and set realistic goals, “One of the most negative things is buying for occasions because people think they cannot repeat. Re-accessorize everything, borrow from your friends and lend them stuff. That will be the perfect way to not buy for occasions.”
The collector said that she loves exploring different streets and shops to find her clothes; she described the process of selecting what to buy as “intuitive.”
“I feel like I already have a connection with a piece; I feel called to a store, and immediately from a distance, I know the thing I am going to buy as if these pieces speak to me. Usually, they are extremely special, whether the texture or the pattern,” she said.

Alia Kurdi has recycled these pants from a vintage skirt. (Supplied)

Kurdi also said that the pieces she selects turn out to be beautiful, and she has developed this compass to find hidden treasures.
She describes her style as an “Emo Unicorn,” someone who likes a lot of black but with loud colors, as well. Her emotions are reflected in the outfit she is wearing.
“I did get a lot of negative comments as I was growing up, and I was very triggered by it. However, now not only have I changed my approach, but people are celebrating it a lot more; they say things like it’s amazing that I have stayed true to myself,” she said.
“Still, a lot of people have said that I was much prettier a few years ago, and I recognize that at that time I was much more insecure.”
She said her favorite piece of clothing is a ‘Google Chrome’ jacket that she bought in Berlin: “It’s black with a lot of bright colors. I broke my spending limit rule for this one jacket because I actually had to have it. So many people have complimented me. I made a friend through it as well. I am so glad that it found me.”
She gave that name to the jacket because the colors looked like Google’s logo. If she were to sum up her style and personality in an item of clothing, this would be it: “It is rough in some spots and soft in some, it is all black but also colorful. Kind of like what I feel all the time.”
The collector has started her own brand where she connects people with pieces with stories, “Diskofrenzy was born because often I will find pieces that were very special but not my size, but I had to collect them and keep them with me. My goal for my brand is to make Diskofrenzy the ultimate go-to for vintage and up-cycled fashion.”
The name connects two very personal things for Kurdi: Disco, which is vintage but is now making a comeback, and she said that she feels a frenzy only when she is dancing or shopping. This is why she decided that the perfect name for her brand would be Diskofrenzy.
She said that people often come up to her and say that only she can pull off a certain style. However, in her opinion that is not true, “Anyone can pull off whatever they want. Just be quirky and weird and a little bit rebellious. Express yourself through what you wear.”