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

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


OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
Updated 34 sec ago

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
  • As well as the display over Riyadh Boulevard as part of Gamers8, the streaming service announced a screen takeover and fireworks display to herald debut of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel

DUBAI: Middle East streaming platform OSN+ is celebrating the upcoming premiere of new HBO series “House of the Dragon,” a prequel to the international hit “Game of Thrones,” by staging an immersive drone show at Riyadh Boulevard on Aug. 18, as part of the ongoing Gamers8 festival.

In addition to the airborne light show, featuring 1,000 drones, the special celebration will include a complete screen takeover at Gamers8 and a fireworks display.

“OSN+ is excited to launch a spectacular drone show, as part of the Gamers8 festival, ahead of the highly anticipated release of ‘House of the Dragon’ on Aug. 22 in the Middle East,” said Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth with the streamer.

“Alongside an expansive screen takeover and firework display, the gaming festival will provide an engaging and immersive platform to celebrate the premiere of the first episode of the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel with fans, both within the Saudi Arabian capital and across the Kingdom.”

The first season of the 10-episode HBO Original drama will air exclusively in the region on OSN+ from Aug. 22, with the first episode available at the same time as its US premiere and subsequent episodes released weekly.


Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 August 2022

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia

Mastercard partners with Gamers8 to promote the gaming industry in Saudi Arabia
  • Mastercard will sponsor the event, hosting a selection of daily tournaments and experiences for gaming enthusiasts

LONDON: Mastercard announced on Monday a three-year partnership with the Saudi Esports Federation, which will see the US company becoming an official sponsor of Gamers8, the largest gaming and esports event worldwide.

Under the new deal, Mastercard will curate and deliver a diverse range of activities, highlighting the company’s “commitment to delivering meaningful, one-of-a-kind experiences for consumers, gamers and gaming enthusiasts across the Kingdom” and strengthening its presence in the country.

“Gamers8 is shaping up as a truly unique and history-making event — one that showcases the Kingdom’s growth as a leading digital hub and provides people access to a wholly immersive experience,” said Adam Jones, country general manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Mastercard. “We are delighted to be working with the Saudi Esports Federation and our network to deliver the greatest esports and gaming event ever.

“Our goal is to fully realize the potential of Gamers8 as a unique event — one that invites people to embark on a journey of discovery, fuel their passions, build memories for a lifetime and start something priceless.” 

Organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, Gamers8 is a global gaming and esports festival running daily until Sept. 8 at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The event, which has a rich program that includes music concerts, tournaments and esports forums, is expected to attract over 2 million visitors and aims to create an immersive experience that appeals to people from all over the world.

“The Saudi Esports Federation was established to nurture the Kingdom’s elite gaming athletes and develop its gaming community and industry,” Ahmed Al-Bishri, chief operating officer at the Saudi Esports Federation, said in a statement.

“Our partnership with Mastercard represents a significant and timely step forward, one that will not only help us keep pace with the rest of the world but propel us to the leading edge of gaming.

“Together with Mastercard, we look forward to delivering truly rewarding experiences and creating lasting memories for people across the country to revel in. This promises to be a game-changer for all players,” Al-Bishri continued.

As part of the agreement, Mastercard will sponsor the event, hosting a selection of daily tournaments and experiences for gaming enthusiasts to participate in over the course of the esports showpiece.

The partnership comes at a very significant moment for the gaming community in Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom seeks to bolster the digital infrastructure and marks the latest step taken by local authorities to accelerate the country’s digital transformation.


Twitter partners with beIN SPORTS ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup

Twitter partners with beIN SPORTS ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup
Updated 15 August 2022

Twitter partners with beIN SPORTS ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup

Twitter partners with beIN SPORTS ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup
  • Channel will offer exclusive content on Twitter to MENA audiences during tournament

LONDON: beIN SPORTS launched a new partnership with Twitter on Monday to share tailored content throughout the world’s biggest football event, the FIFA World Cup, scheduled to kick off in Qatar in November.

beIN SPORTS will distribute content exclusively for regional audiences on Twitter by spotlighting the most significant moments throughout the competition. It will also offer brands and marketers association opportunities through Twitter Amplify sponsorships.

The official broadcaster of the FIFA World Cup across the Middle East and North Africa region will highlight each match with content clips, including one match recap and an in-studio analysis, aired through the beIN SPORTS official handle, @beINSPORTS, for a total of 320 videos.

“As one of the leading official broadcasters of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in the 24-country MENA region, our talented teams will be working night and day to deliver the best content and insight — using the latest cutting-edge technology, so that every fan’s experience is incredible,” said Faisal Mahmoud Al-Raisi, director of digital at beIN MENA.

“We are delighted to partner with Twitter for this historic event to do everything we can for our millions of followers across MENA to make memories for a lifetime.”

The move comes after studies by beIN SPORTS that showed 78 percent of World Cup fans on Twitter believe that the social media platform offers exclusive content.

The partnership aims to ensure that Twitter continues to be the home of football and a point of reference for fans across the region.

“Football is one of the biggest conversations in this region. We’ve witnessed a 74 percent spike in average monthly football conversations in comparison to the previous 12 months,” said Kinda Ibrahim, Twitter director of global partnerships, MEA and Turkey. “From Saudi Arabia alone, we’ve seen more than 53 million tweets about football so far this year.

“When Twitter talks sports, the world listens. From firing up fan excitement to meeting fans on their home turf, Twitter is the best place to connect to the moments that get the world talking — right where it’s happening,” Ibrahim added.

“By working with the region’s biggest sports broadcaster, we are excited to provide near real time match highlights to die hard fans who drive the intensity and build community around one of the most watched global sporting events.”


YouTube plans to launch streaming video service

YouTube plans to launch streaming video service
Updated 15 August 2022

YouTube plans to launch streaming video service

YouTube plans to launch streaming video service
  • The platform has been in the works for at least 18 months and could be available as early as this fall.

LONDON: Alphabet Inc’s YouTube is planning to launch an online store for streaming video services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The company has renewed talks with entertainment companies about participating in the platform, which it is referring to internally as a “channel store,” the report said, citing people close to the recent discussions.
The platform has been in the works for at least 18 months and could be available as early as this fall, the report added.
Alphabet did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
With more consumers cutting the cord on cable or satellite TV and shifting to subscription-based streaming services, the planned launch will allow YouTube to join companies like Roku Inc. and Apple in a bid to gain a portion of the already crowded streaming market.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Walmart Inc. has held talks with media companies about including streaming entertainment in its membership service.


Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads
Updated 15 August 2022

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads

Strike four: Facebook misses election misinfo in Brazil ads
  • Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation

Facebook failed to detect blatant election-related misinformation in ads ahead of Brazil’s 2022 election, a new report from Global Witness has found, continuing a pattern of not catching material that violates its policies the group describes as “alarming.”
The advertisements contained false information about the country’s upcoming election, such as promoting the wrong election date, incorrect voting methods and questioning the integrity of the election.
This is the fourth time that the London-based nonprofit has tested Meta’s ability to catch blatant violations of the rules of its most popular social media platform— and the fourth such test Facebook has flubbed. In the three prior instances, Global Witness submitted advertisements containing violent hate speech to see if Facebook’s controls — either human reviewers or artificial intelligence — would catch it. They did not.
“Facebook has identified Brazil as one of its priority countries where it’s investing special resources specifically to tackle election related disinformation,” said Jon Lloyd, senior adviser at Global Witness. “So we wanted to really test out their systems with enough time for them to act. And with the US midterms around the corner, Meta simply has to get this right — and right now.”
Brazil’s national elections will be held on Oct. 2 amid high tensions and disinformation threatening to discredit the electoral process. Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the country. In a statement, Meta said it has ” prepared extensively for the 2022 election in Brazil.”
“We’ve launched tools that promote reliable information and label election-related posts, established a direct channel for the Superior Electoral Court to send us potentially-harmful content for review, and continue closely collaborating with Brazilian authorities and researchers,” the company said.
In 2020 Facebook began requiring advertisers who wish to run ads about elections or politics to complete an authorization process and include “Paid for by” disclaimers on these ads, similar to what it does in the US The increased safeguards follow the 2016 US presidential elections, when Russia used rubles to pay for political ads designed to stoke divisions and unrest among Americans.
Global Witness said it broke these rules when it submitted the test ads (which were approved for publication but were never actually published). The group placed the ads from outside Brazil, from Nairobi and London, which should have raised red flags.
It was also not required to put a “paid for by” disclaimer on the ads and did not use a Brazilian payment method — all safeguards Facebook says it had put in place to prevent misuse of its platform by malicious actors trying to intervene in elections around the world.
“What’s quite clear from the results of this investigation and others is that their content moderation capabilities and the integrity systems that they deploy in order to mitigate some of the risk during election periods, it’s just not working,” Lloyd said.
The group is using ads as a test and not regular posts because Meta claims to hold advertisements to an “even stricter” standard than regular, unpaid posts, according to its help center page for paid advertisements.
But judging from the four investigations, Lloyd said that’s not actually clear.
“We we are constantly having to take Facebook at their word. And without a verified independent third party audit, we just can’t hold Meta or any other tech company accountable for what they say they’re doing,” he said.
Global Witness submitted ten ads to Meta that obviously violated its policies around election-related advertising. They included false information about when and where to vote, for instance and called into question the integrity of Brazil’s voting machines — echoing disinformation used by malicious actors to destabilize democracies around the world.
This will be Brazil’s first election since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking reelection, came to power. Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked the integrity of the country’s election systems.
“Disinformation featured heavily in its 2018 election, and this year’s election is already marred by reports of widespread disinformation, spread from the very top: Bolsonaro is already seeding doubt about the legitimacy of the election result, leading to fears of a United States-inspired January 6 ‘stop the steal’ style coup attempt,” Global Witness said.
In its previous investigations, the group found that Facebook did not catch hate speech in Myanmar, where ads used a slur to refer to people of east Indian or Muslim origin and call for their deaths; in Ethiopia, where the ads used dehumanizing hate speech to call for the murder of people belonging to each of Ethiopia’s three main ethnic groups; and in Kenya, where the ads spoke of beheadings, rape and bloodshed.