Netflix drops Meghan Markle’s animated series ‘Pearl’

Netflix drops Meghan Markle’s animated series ‘Pearl’
(File/AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2022

Netflix drops Meghan Markle’s animated series ‘Pearl’

Netflix drops Meghan Markle’s animated series ‘Pearl’

LONDON: Streaming platform Netflix Inc. said on Sunday it had decided to stop work on Meghan Markle’s family series “Pearl” as it reviewed animated content.
Dropping several projects, including Markle’s, was part of strategic decisions on production of animated series, the company said in a statement, without providing further details on its decision.
Archewell Productions, the company formed by Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, said last year that she would be an executive producer of “Pearl.” The series was to be centered on the adventures of a 12-year-old girl who is inspired by influential women from history.
The couple is formally known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Archewell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Netflix also decided not to move forward with the two animated children’s series “Dino Daycare” and “Boons and Curses.”
The decision to cancel these shows comes after Netflix reported a loss of 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter, falling well short of its forecast of adding 2.5 million.
Last year, Netflix extended a deal for animation films with Comcast subsidiary Universal Pictures, a move that was expected to help Netflix hold on to child viewers.
Netflix said on Sunday it would continue to work on projects with Archewell, including the previously announced documentary series “Heart of Invictus.” This will focus on athletes competing in the Invictus Games for injured veterans in The Hague in 2022.
Netflix did not respond to a query on whether it would cut more animated shows.


Dubai Film and TV Commission launches initiative to support Emirati screenwriters

Dubai Film and TV Commission launches initiative to support Emirati screenwriters
Updated 07 July 2022

Dubai Film and TV Commission launches initiative to support Emirati screenwriters

Dubai Film and TV Commission launches initiative to support Emirati screenwriters
  • The program builds upon the UAE and India’s long-standing relationship, which is marked by decades of cultural and social exchange

LONDON: The Dubai Film and TV Commission launched an initiative on Wednesday to support Emirati scriptwriters from across the UAE and abroad to produce scripts for Bollywood.

In partnership with leading Bollywood studios, the initiative “Ticket to Bollywood” is aimed at expanding Emirati talent in film and cinema.

“Bollywood has a special place in the hearts of natives and expats across the region. For decades, Indian culture, from food and fashion to film and song, have interacted with and influenced our own,” Saeed Aljanahi, director of operations at DFTC, said.

“We are delighted to enrich our relationship with greater cultural and creative engagement. This initiative aims to provide Emirati writers a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and appreciation for the industry with their personal touch, while gaining invaluable experience working alongside established writers and directors from one of the world’s biggest filmmaking industries.”

Those interested aged 18 years or older can register their interest, experience and portfolio via the DFTC website

Shortlisted applicants will then be asked to submit a story exploring topics of their choosing within drama, action, thriller or romance genres.

A panel of film industry experts will vet the submissions before selecting a number of outstanding writers to develop a feature-length script for the participating Bollywood studios.

The program builds upon the UAE and India’s long-standing relationship, which is marked by decades of cultural and social exchange.

Bollywood blockbusters like ‘“Happy New Year,” “Raees,” “Laxmmi Bomb” were filmed over the years in Dubai, many of which have also been enjoyed by local Arabic-speaking audiences.


INTERVIEW: Saudi women have beautiful, layered stories to tell, says Netflix exec

INTERVIEW: Saudi women have beautiful, layered stories to tell, says Netflix exec
Updated 06 July 2022

INTERVIEW: Saudi women have beautiful, layered stories to tell, says Netflix exec

INTERVIEW: Saudi women have beautiful, layered stories to tell, says Netflix exec
  • Nuha El-Tayeb discusses launch of Because She Created, a collection of 21 films by Arab women filmmakers

DUBAI: Netflix is launching a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films on July 7 titled “Because She Created.”

Featuring movies by female filmmakers, the collection includes documentaries as well as dramas and romance movies, amplifying the creative voices of Arab women filmmakers.

The filmmakers hail from diverse countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and more.

The Because She Created platform was first launched last year as a virtual panel discussion hosting Arab women filmmakers to talk about the evolving role of women in the regional film industry.

Netflix then teamed up with the Cairo International Film Festival to host the second edition of Because She Created as a fireside chat with renowned Tunisian actress Hend Sabry. Now, the streaming giant is using the platform to launch a specially curated collection of films that shine a spotlight on Arab women filmmakers.

“We have had women filmmakers, writers, producers and actors creating their own ripple in the regional entertainment industry for decades,” Nuha El-Tayeb, director of Content Acquisitions, Netflix MENA and Turkey, told Arab News.

“Filmmakers in the Arab world are more aware that in order to be seen they have to have authenticity, but also to deliver a universal story. There is a return of powerful female lead roles in commercial cinema, young creatives are breaking traditional gender boxes and women are finding more avenues to tell stories they haven’t been able to tell before,” she added.

Arab cinema has had a moment on the global stage in recent years. In 2019, Nadine Labaki became the first Arab woman to be nominated for best Foreign Language film at the Oscars through her title “Capernaum.” Still, there are gaps in the industry that need to be addressed.

One way to create more opportunities for women is to let them have more autonomy over their stories, El-Tayeb said. “Actors need to be more conscious of the narratives and stories they choose to be involved in, and demand better and more authentic portrayals for women in film.”

This is especially important given that there are fewer scripts written for female characters, while male characters “remain the motor of Arab cinema,” she said.

“We know that more women behind the camera has a ripple effect for women in front of it,” El-Tayeb added. Netflix recently renewed “AlRawabi School for Girls” and “Finding Ola” for another season. Both shows are spearheaded by female showrunners and have made it to Netflix top 10 lists around the world.

“The success of these shows has helped Arab talent, creators and storytellers reach new audiences, and instilled a sense of pride,” she said.

Since the lifting of the cinema ban in 2018, Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in the creative industries, allocating $64 billion toward the entertainment sector alone. During the Red Sea Film Festival last year, the Ministry of Investment announced that the Kingdom would support the production of 100 films by 2030.

The Saudi Film Commission also announced an incentive program earlier this year offering financial refunds of up to 40 percent for local and international producers shooting in the Kingdom.

“There’s incredible talent in Saudi Arabia,” said El-Tayeb. “The entertainment landscape is rapidly evolving and Saudi women — like other women from the Arab world and globally — have beautiful, complex and layered stories to tell.”

Netflix is already working with Arab women not only to help tell their stories, but also to amplify their voices in order to reach a global audience. In April, it partnered with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to grant five women Arab filmmakers $250,000 to bring their work to life.

The streaming giant has also worked with writer and director Hana Al-Omair on “Whispers,” an eight-part psychological thriller, as well as with Haifaa Al-Mansour on “Wadjda,” the first feature film made by a female Saudi director.

As Saudi women become more involved in government and private industries, El-Tayeb hopes that they “gain more autonomy over their stories and give more people a chance to see their lives reflected on screen.

“With more women behind the camera, we can also expect more Saudi women to play leading roles and carry films in a way they may not have had the opportunity to do before.”

One of the films featured in the collection is Saudi filmmaker Ahd Kamel’s “Sanctity,” which tells the story of a young Saudi widow who endures a world of hardship to protect her unborn child. 

The film was nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlinale 2013, and won a Golden Aleph at the Beirut International Film Festival as well as a Development Award at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

For many, the topic of the film might seem somewhat controversial. But for Kamel, it is simply about what a woman would do without a man, and “I don’t see anything controversial about that,” she told Arab News.

The idea for the film was born out of Kamel’s personal experience. At the age of 14, when she lost her father, Kamel saw her mother struggle to pick up the pieces and manage the household.

“I wanted to explore the topic of what is a woman’s power and where it lies,” she said. “I truly believe women can endure way more than men and it’s something that I wanted to honor.”

Kamel, who is also an actor, grew up in the Kingdom when a career in the film industry was not even possible. She moved to the US to study filmmaking — her true passion — and acting happened by chance.

In her initial roles, Kamel was cast as a terrorist, and then “upgraded” to a refugee and CIA agent. Going from a terrorist to an anti-terrorism agent for an Arab Muslim woman in Hollywood might seem like progress, but Kamel said that it was tied to a “political idea, whether we are creating terrorism or fighting it.”

Despite these challenges, Kamel added that “you have to continue believing in what you believe in.”

The Kingdom’s transformation, in particular, “shifts the whole paradigm,” she said. “If we (women) can say that we are part of writing the history of our culture and of our country, that is something quite groundbreaking and amazing.”

Netflix’s Because She Created collection includes films both by established, award-winning filmmakers as well as new talent. It also hosts work from “several underrepresented parts of the Arab world” that deserve a wider audience, El-Tayeb said.

“With this collection, we want to showcase the diversity and depth of work by women filmmakers in the region,” she added.

“We hope that through the collection, people around the world get a peek into award-winning masterpieces, directorial debuts and several poignant stories by female Arab filmmakers all at once.”


Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey

Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey
Updated 06 July 2022

Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey

Faith in democracy on the decline among noteworthy findings in major BBC MENA survey
  • 23k people were interviewed across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestinian
  • Majority of those surveyed believe economic conditions are worsening in the region

LONDON: BBC News Arabic revealed on Wednesday the findings of a major survey conducted in the Middle East and North Africa region between 2021-2022. 

Approximately 23,000 people were interviewed across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestinian on a wide range of topics, including democracy, women’s rights, the economy and race. 

Conducted between October 2021 and April 2022, the survey was commissioned by BBC News Arabic in partnership with Arab Barometer, a research network based at Princeton University.

Sam Farah, head of BBC News Arabic, said: “The Arab World Survey 2021/2022 is vital in helping us to understand what people living in the Middle East and North Africa think about the pressing issues affecting their lives.”

One of the most noteworthy findings is that faith in democracy is in rapid decline in the countries surveyed.

Over 50 percent of participants in Tunisia, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Palestine believe that their country’s economy is weak under a democratic system, with Iraq having the highest number of people who appear to have lost faith in democracy (72 percent).

That said, the majority of people in all countries surveyed believe that while democracy may have problems, it is still better than other political systems. 

In Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, more than half of those surveyed agreed with the statement that their country needs a leader who can bend the rules if necessary to get things done.

Another notable finding is that people believe economic conditions are worsening. 

Lebanon is ranked lowest out of all the countries in the survey, with less than 1 percent of Lebanese surveyed saying that the current economic situation is good. 

Overall, most people surveyed do not expect that the economic situation in their country will improve in the next few years. Some optimism exists, nevertheless. In six countries, over a third of surveyed citizens say the situation will be better or somewhat better in the coming two to three years.

Of those surveyed, many have experienced food insecurity and scarcity and say that often or sometimes they did not have money to buy more food. The struggle to keep food on the table was most acutely witnessed in Egypt and Mauritania, where around two in three people said this happened sometimes or often.

In general, attitudes toward the role of women in the region are slowly becoming more progressive, apart from Morocco where 49 percent of Moroccans said men are better at political leadership than women. 

While attitudes regarding the role of women were improving, the majority of participants believe that violence toward women has increased, with 61 percent of participants in Tunisia agreeing with this statement. 

The survey also suggests that people appear to be finding their faith again, particularly young people. However, trust in religious leaders is decreasing, with 47 percent of Lebanese and 31 percent of Sudanese surveyed saying they do not have any trust in religious leaders.

In terms of attitudes toward world leaders, US President Joe Biden’s MENA policies are viewed as being not much better than those of Trump, but the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is widely supported in surveyed countries.

Meanwhile, the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remain popular in the countries surveyed. 

Finally, more than a third of people in all countries surveyed except Egypt agree that racial discrimination is a problem, with Tunisia having the highest number of people agreeing with this (80 percent).

However, 82 percent of Egyptians say that there is no racial discrimination at all against black people.


Netflix launches free TV-themed walking tours in European cities

Netflix launches free TV-themed walking tours in European cities
Updated 06 July 2022

Netflix launches free TV-themed walking tours in European cities

Netflix launches free TV-themed walking tours in European cities
  • Covers iconic filming locations for popular titles in the Arab world, including ‘The Crown,’ ‘Bridgerton,’ ‘La Casa de Papel’ and ‘Emily in Paris’
  • Arab fans can sign up for the guided walks in London, Paris and Madrid

LONDON: Netflix launched a series of free guided walking tours in London, Paris and Madrid inspired by popular Netflix shows, including popular titles across the Middle East such as “The Crown,” “Bridgerton,” “La Casa de Papel,” “Emily in Paris” and many more.

Taking place for one week between July 11-17, the guided walking tours will take participants to the filming locations of their favorite Netflix shows while recounting historical facts and cultural trivia about the European cities.

Highly popular in the Middle East, the Netflix titles are likely to entice fans from Saudi Arabia and the Arab region to take part in the walking tours and see their much-loved shows come to life.

A recurring theme in 'Bridgerton', Pall Mall is the name of one of Londond's most popular streets, home to several Gentlemen's clubs. (Supplied)

According to Netflix statistics, shows created and filmed in London have proved tremendously popular in the Arab World, with “Bridgerton” featured in Saudi Arabia’s Top 10 Netflix series for several weeks in a row.

In partnership with SANDEMANs NEW Europe Tours, the Netflix tour in London sets off in St. James’s Park across from Buckingham Palace, around which titles like “The Crown” and “Bridgerton” were set.

While guides explain the significance of royal palaces and houses around St. James’s Park, the Changing of the Guard ceremony can be heard in the background, adequately setting the scene for the beginning of the tour.

Equally fluent in history and Netflix shows, tour guides will blend together reality and fiction, directing attention to scenes, locations and details that fans might have missed.

Guides will hand out still images from the shows that outline where key scenes in the Netflix titles took place.

Still image of King George VI statue from 'The Crown' at the King Goerge VI & Queen Elizabeth Memorial in
in St. James's Park in London. (Supplied)
Still image from 'Bridgerton' against the backdrop where it was filmed in The Traveller’s Club, one of Londond's many Gentelmen clubs. (Supplied)


While rich with behind-the-scenes information and historical trivia, the two-hour long excursion does not involve trips inside buildings and other shooting locations.

That said, numerous historical landmarks are dotted across London’s city center, allowing participants to still access a significant amount of historical trivia through the walking tours.

The London tour ends with suggestions for further excursions around London and the UK, where other Netflix titles were filmed, including “After Life,” “Anatomy of a Scandal” and “Enola Holmes.”

The Lansbourough Hotel in London. (Supplied)

Another exciting option for tourists is to head to The Lanesborough hotel near Hyde Park Corner to enjoy a Bridgerton-themed afternoon tea featuring a selection of cakes, finger sandwiches and warm scones.

Racking up more than 650 million hours of viewing during the week of its Season Two debut, “Bridgerton” is considered one of Netflix’s most popular shows of all time.

 


Twitter challenges India order to block content

Photo/REUTERS
Photo/REUTERS
Updated 06 July 2022

Twitter challenges India order to block content

Photo/REUTERS
  • The company has removed content related to anti-government farmer protests and tweets criticizing the Modi administration’s handling of the pandemic

NEW DELHI: Twitter on Tuesday challenged the Indian government in court over its recent orders to take down some content on the social media platform, media outlets reported.
The lawsuit was filed in the Karnataka High Court in southern Bengaluru city and comes after the Indian government in February warned company executives of criminal action if they failed to comply with the takedown orders, the Press Trust of India and the Bar and Bench legal news site reported.
A Twitter spokesperson, Aditi Shorewal, declined to comment or specify what type of content the company was told to block. She did not confirm that Twitter had filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is part of a growing confrontation between Twitter and New Delhi after the Indian government last year passed a new set of sweeping regulations giving it more power to police online content.
The new rules require companies to erase or block content that authorities deem unlawful. Under the laws, employees of social media websites and technology companies can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s orders.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the laws passed by the country’s Parliament,” India’s IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, told reporters Tuesday, when he was asked about the lawsuit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and administration.
Twitter complied with most of those orders in the past but also resisted others and has called the new rules a “potential threat to freedom of expression.” The company has removed content related to anti-government farmer protests and tweets criticizing the Modi administration’s handling of the pandemic.
The Indian government has called the new rules necessary to tackle disinformation, hate speech and other troubles. Officials have warned Twitter that non-compliance with the rules could mean that the company would lose its liability protections as an intermediary, meaning Twitter could face lawsuits over content.
Relations between the Indian government and Twitter have been thorny since the laws were passed.
In May last year, police raided Twitter’s office after the company labelled a tweet by Modi’s party spokesman as “manipulated media.”
That same month, WhatsApp sued the Indian government to defend what it said was its users’ privacy and stop new rules that would require it to make messages “traceable” to external parties. That case is still pending in an Indian court.
Experts have criticized the new rules and said they amount to censorship. They have also accused the Modi government of silencing criticism on social media, particularly Twitter. Modi’s party denies the claim.
Police in New Delhi last week arrested a journalist over a tweet from 2018 that an anonymous Twitter user alleged was hurtful to sentiments of a “particular religion.”