‘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.”


Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs
Updated 21 May 2022

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

DUBAI: Palestinian-Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid is entering the metaverse world.

The catwalk star announced this week on Instagram that she will be selling non-fungible tokens called CY-B3LLA that “serve as a passport to this new world.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music and more. They are bought and sold online, usually with cryptocurrency.

Hadid told her 52.1 million followers that each NFT features “different and unique 3D scans of me, thought up with you in mind, that will be utilized around the world; designed to encourage travel, community, growth, fantasy and human interactions.”

The model said that in the coming months, the project will allow collectors to go to real locations and events around the world, where they can meet her.


Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend
Updated 21 May 2022

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

DUBAI: Loungewear has become a wardrobe staple, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is something British entrepreneur Natasha Zaki is looking to capitalize on with her chic new range of comfortable clothing.

Post-pandemic life acted as a creative catalyst for the Dubai-based businesswoman who took advantage of the explosion in loungewear’s popularity to launch her own brand, Glossy Lounge, which is available in Saudi Arabia. 

The clothing label, which she launched earlier this year, is Zaki’s second business venture. She also has an eco-friendly beauty brand, Glossy Makeup, which is available at 50 retail stores globally.

“I always wanted to start another brand alongside my beauty brand,” the makeup artist told Arab News. 

“There is always room for elevated athleisure,” added Zaki, explaining that the items her brand sells are “chic, fun and trendy” but can also be worn for working out. 

Glossy Lounge offers hoodies, jackets, jumpers, T-shirts, leggings, shorts, sweatpants, bodysuits and underwear in an array of different colors for men, women and children. 

Her label has so far received the likes of regional it-girls including Kuwaiti social media star Fouz Al-Fahad, Egyptian actress Asallah Kamel and Lebanese fashion influencer Mayada Sleiman, to name a few. 

According to her website, Zaki works with sustainable fabrics such as “organic cotton, bamboo and recycled polyester.”

Contrary to what one might think, the founder said that creating eco-friendly products is not “very challenging.” 

“A lot of factories offer sustainable fabrics and solutions,” she said. “We source sustainable fabric and biodegradable trims pretty easily. Sourcing the best fabrics for our customers’ comfort while taking care of our environment is one of my top priorities with Glossy Lounge.”

Just last month, Glossy Lounge partnered with Dubai’s non-profit organization Emirates Nature-WWF. Every purchase from the loungewear brand will support mangrove and conservation efforts in the UAE, according to the fashion and beauty enthusiast. 

“I personally wanted to give back to the Emirates, and as a nature lover we decided to partner with Emirates Nature,” Zaki said. “The pandemic was a time of self-reflection for many of us, reminding us of the importance of giving back and preserving our dear planet.”


Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
Updated 21 May 2022

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
  • New York-based architects WORKac were approached in 2018 to design Beirut’s new art museum 
  • BeMA will stand on what was once the “green line” dividing the Lebanese capital during the civil war

DUBAI: For many Lebanese, the past can be a painful subject. A civil war destroyed large swaths of the country between 1975 and 1990. The postwar period has been marked by sectarian strife and government dysfunction.

But in spite of the traumas of recent decades, Lebanon remains a land of immense cultural wealth, with a rich history reflected in its architectural, cultural and anthropological heritage.

This is why the Beirut Museum of Art, or BeMA, which is due to open in 2026, has been billed as a “beacon of hope” in a country beset by political paralysis, economic decline and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

When Sandra Abou Nader and Rita Nammour launched the museum project, their goal was to showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and artist-in-residency programs.

“They realized that there was, in fact, very little visibility for the Lebanese artistic scene, within the country and abroad, and for Lebanese artists, whether modern or contemporary,” BeMA’s art consultant, Juliana Khalaf, told Arab News.

Compuer-generated views of BeMA. Described as a 'vertical sculpture garden,' it will feature three gallery floors that borrow elements from local art deco designs. (Supplied/WORKac)

About 700 works of art will be on display at the new venue, drawn from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s collection of more than 2,000 pieces, the bulk of which have been in storage for decades.

“We are going to be housing this very important collection,” said Khalaf. “We call it the national collection and it belongs to the public. It’s our role to make it, for the very first time, accessible. It’s never been seen before.”

The artworks, created by more than 200 artists and dating from the late-19th century to the present day, tell the story of this small Mediterranean country from its renaissance era and independence to the civil war period and beyond.

The collection includes pieces by Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran and his mentor, the influential late-Ottoman-era master Daoud Corm, who was renowned for his sophisticated portraiture and still-life painting.

Works by pioneers of Lebanese modernism, such as Helen Khal, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Saliba Douaihy, will also feature among the collection, as will several lesser-known 20th-century artists, including Esperance Ghorayeb, who created several rare, abstract compositions in the 1970s.

“The collection is a reminder of the beautiful heritage that we have,” said Khalaf. “It shows us our culture through the eyes of our artists.”

Among the priorities for the BeMA team, in partnership with the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, is the restoration of the collection, which includes several paintings and works on paper that have been damaged by war, neglect, improper storage or simply the passage of time.

Gathering information about the artists and their effects on Lebanon’s artistic heritage is another priority for the BeMA team, and is a task that has proved to be challenging given the dearth of published resources and the means to catalog them.

FASTFACT

* International Museum Day, held annual on or around May 18, highlights a specific theme or issue facing museums internationally.

“What was surprising was how little research there is out there and how much we need to do on that front, like getting the right equipment that is not currently available in the country to properly archive books and photography,” said Khalaf.

In 2018, the BeMA team approached WORKac, an architectural firm based in New York, for ideas about the new venue. Co-founded by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, a Lebanese-born architect and former dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, WORKac has designed museums in California, Texas, New York and Florida.

For Andraos, who left Lebanon at the age of three, the chance to design a home for Beirut’s artistic heritage is particularly special.

“I think it’s a very personal project for everyone involved,” she told Arab News. “Everybody put their heart and soul into this idea that Beirut really needed a museum to house the national collection.

“For me, personally, I have a great attachment to Beirut, to its history, as well as architecturally, artistically and intellectually.”

"Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope, it's almost like a resistance to collapse," says Amale Andraos, the Lebanese-born architect and co-founder of architecture firm WORKac. (Supplied)

Given the country’s troubled past and complex identity, Andraos believes the museum’s collection will prove valuable in helping Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from past traumas.

“It’s an archive that we need to go back to, to understand who we are and how we move forward,” she said.

After the project was approved by city authorities, the first stone was laid at the site of the new museum in February. The initial phase requires Andraos and her team to examine the site for archaeological remains.

When complete, the museum will feature three gallery floors that borrow aesthetic elements from local Art Deco urban design. It has been described as an “open museum” and a “vertical sculpture garden,” owing to its cubic facade which will be embellished with bursts of greenery from top to bottom.

Andraos admits she was initially skeptical about the project. Lebanon is in the throes of multiple crises, including a financial collapse. Beirut, the capital, is yet to recover from the devastating blast at the city’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, when a warehouse filled with highly explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire and detonated, leveling an entire district.

All of this, combined with the additional economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused thousands of young Lebanese to move abroad in search of work and respite from the seemingly endless litany of crises.

Lebanon is experiencing financial collapse, economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment and hunger, increasing poverty and government dysfunction. (AFP)

For some people in the country, though, it is precisely because of these issues that a museum celebrating Lebanon’s cultural achievements is needed, perhaps now more than ever.

“When I recently presented the museum to a member of the BeMA board, I said: ‘This is probably the worst time for a museum,’ and he said: ‘This is the most important time for a museum because we need culture, education and ideas,’” said Andraos.

“When people are hungry, it’s like art versus food — but art is also food, in some ways, for the spirit and the mind.

“Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope and the country needs to build its institutions. It’s almost like a resistance to collapse. We have a history that is worth valuing, rereading, and a culture that we need to preserve and build on.”

This is not to say that the project was welcomed by everyone at the beginning.

“There’s no large public attendance of museums; it’s something that really needs to be developed,” Khalaf said. “In that respect, people felt like it was an unnecessary project.

“But now that people actually see that it’s a serious project and is happening, the attitude has changed. People say there’s something to look forward to.”

To date, about 70 percent of funding for the project has been allocated and a public appeal will soon be launched to make up any shortfall. Entry to the museum will be free.

Located in the leafy, upmarket, residential Badaro district in the heart of Beirut, known for its early-20th-century, art deco-influenced buildings, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that separated the east and west of the capital during the civil war.

“What’s nice about it now is that it might become the ‘museum mile,’ because there’s the National Museum, BeMA, Mim Museum, and if you just go further down, you’ll actually get to the Sursock Museum,” said Khalaf.

“It changes the perspective from a war-torn Beirut to a culturally alive Beirut.” 

__________

Twitter: @artprojectdxb

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Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival
Updated 20 May 2022

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival
  • Cartier’s Middle East ambassador among many stars seen wearing creations by Arab designers

DUBAI: Saudi filmmaker and actress Fatima Albanawi turned heads this week wearing a Rami Kadi gown at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

The custom-made outfit by the Lebanese couturier comprised a pink holographic dress and a sheer cape with thread detailing.

With the help of Saudi stylist Rawan Kattoa, Albanawi accessorized her look with jewelry from Cartier. The star was announced as the French fashion house’s Middle East ambassador in June last year.

“Back at it, this time in the one and only @festivaldecannes and I am happy to say the vibe and energy of this one is spectacular,” Albanawi wrote on Instagram.

The actress rose to fame in 2016 for her role in the award-winning movie “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also the Saudi Arabian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards.

Albanawi’s other credits include playing a Parisian actress from the ’70s in the film “Roll’em” and a selfish theater superstar in the “Bashar” series. She also appeared in the Netflix series “Paranormal.”

She was not the only star at Cannes to step out in a Kali creation.

On Thursday, the designer shared a picture of German model Ann-Sophie Thieme wearing a bright green gown embroidered with crystals against a tulle frill cape as she attended the screening of US filmmaker James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.”

The festival, which runs until May 28, also saw several Hollywood celebrities and international models stepping out in showstopping gowns by Arab designers like Elie Saab, Nicolas Jebran, Tony Ward, Zuhair Murad and Atelier Zuhra.

French model Amandine Petit, Danish catwalk star Josephine Skriver and Indian actress Hina Khan wore colorful royal gowns by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.

Other Arab celebrities, including Lebanese reality TV star Alice Abdelaziz and French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar, were also spotted on the red carpet this week.


Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise
Updated 20 May 2022

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

LOS ANGELES: “Top Gun: Maverick” takes audiences back to the danger zone with more high-flying action and the return of US actor Tom Cruise to his 1986 star-making role.

Similar to the pilots it showcases, critics are calling the movie the best of the best and an exceptional successor to the original.

In an interview with Arab News, American actor Jon Hamm, who joined the cast as Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, said that the team working on the movie had “tremendous respect for the original and a real deep desire to make a second chapter of the story that’s just as compelling as the first.”

Hamm recalled watching the first film when he was 15 years old. “I remember immediately after seeing it, I wanted to see it again.”

After decades of avoiding promotion, Navy test pilot “Maverick” Mitchell is ordered to train a squad of young Top Gun pilots.

Cruise and the cast of newcomers bring charm and emotion to the film particularly in the strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster, the son of his late best friend.

The actors in the movie credited Cruise’s well-established career saying that his 40-year experience helped them shoot the flick smoothly.

Actor Glen Powell, who stars as Lt. “Hangman” Seresin, said: “Tom Cruise put together our entire flight training program based on his experience on the first movie.

“So, the first movie they threw actors up there trying to get shots, but the problem is they’re vomiting and passing out and they’re just limp dolls in the back of a plane. So, you can’t use any of that footage.

“That’s only something Tom Cruise can ask for after a 40-year career of doing it at the highest level, so we get to look cool in the back of these F-18s,” Powell added.

Actor Miles Teller, who plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, said: “What an audience has been feeling for two hours, he can sum up in one look, and that is something that Tom really is a master of.

“He’s just been doing it at such a high level for such a long time and so I would just find myself sitting back and watching him,” Teller added.

“Top Gun: Maverick” premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, where Tom Cruise was lauded with a surprise Palme d’Or.

The movie will be released in Saudi Arabia on May 26.