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.”


TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
Updated 17 August 2022

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
  • ‘Young, vibrant’ MENA population bucks trend with streaming surge

LONDON: A new Ofcom report released on Wednesday found that young people in the UK watch almost seven times less TV than people aged over 65.

The UK’s communications regulator said that the “generation gap” in the way media is consumed has reached an all-time high.

Brits aged 16-24 reportedly favor streaming platforms and social media over traditional broadcast TV and spend an average of 53 minutes per day watching TV — a decrease of two-thirds over the past decade.

“The streaming revolution is stretching the TV generation gap, creating a stark divide in the viewing habits of younger and older people,” said Ian Macrae, Ofcom director of market intelligence.

“Traditional broadcasters face tough competition from online streaming platforms, which they’re partly meeting through the popularity of their own on-demand player apps, while broadcast television is still the place to go for big events that bring the nation together, such as the Euros final or the Jubilee celebrations,” he added. 

However, the latest market study undertaken by Arabsat in conjunction with Ipsos in 2021 found that TV viewership in the Middle East and North Africa region “boasts a young, vibrant,and diverse community” with 45 percent of viewers aged under 30.

This trend, in stark contrast with the Ofcom report, illustrates “the strong sustainable relevance of satellite TV also amongst younger TV audiences in MENA.”

Ofcom attributed the decline in TV viewership among young people in the UK to the rise in popular streaming services and short-form video platforms.

In its report, the regulator said about one in five UK homes have a subscription to all three of the biggest streaming services: Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

The regulator also warned that public sector broadcasters will continue to experience declines in viewership over the coming years.

MENA’s streaming industry has been “rapidly increasing,” according to an independent study by market research firm Dataxis. The region’s streaming platforms saw a 30 percent increase in subscribers between 2020 and 2021, reaching close to 10 million users in 18 countries.

By 2026 subscriptions in the region are expected to triple to close to 30 million.

However, the Arabsat report said: “Satellite TV continues to remain the strongest mode of content distribution in the region, with 93 percent total market share.”


Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
Updated 17 August 2022

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
  • Move comes after property rental company made a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year

LONDON: Airbnb said on Tuesday that it will roll out “anti-party technology” as part of efforts to stop illegal partying in its listed properties.

The new system, which will be deployed initially in North America, will look at a range of factors to identify types of reservations that are likely to result in unlawful parties. These include “history of positive reviews (or lack of positive reviews), length of time the guest has been on Airbnb, length of the trip, distance to the listing, and weekend versus weekday.” 

Airbnb said in a statement that “the primary objective is attempting to reduce the ability of bad actors to throw unauthorized parties which negatively impact our hosts, neighbors and the communities we serve. 

“It’s integral to our commitment to our host community — who respect their neighbors and want no part of the property damage and other issues that may come with unauthorized or disruptive parties.”

The announcement comes after the company decided to make a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year.

Since October 2021, Airbnb has been trialling the technology in select areas of Australia, where it recorded a “35 percent drop in incidents of unauthorized parties,” the company said.

Similar initiatives were previously put in place by the peer-to-peer property rental platform. In July 2020, it introduced a system that prevented under-25s in North America from booking large houses close to where they live if they did not have a history of positive reviews.

“As we get more reservations and bookings, we look at how things are trending, how our metrics are trending,” said Naba Banerjee, Airbnb’s global head of product, operations, and strategy for trust and safety.

“We try to look at the rate of safety incidents, and we try to make sure that we are launching solutions that constantly try to work on that rate.”

Airbnb has long sought to crack down on illegal parties. The company announced in 2019 that “party homes” would be banned after five people were killed in a shooting at a Halloween gathering in an Airbnb property in Orinda, California, where over 100 people were reportedly present.

In 2020, the company began imposing stricter regulations around its “house party” policy amid the global pandemic. Both the “event friendly” search filter and “parties and events allowed” house rules were removed as it sought to counter a rise in house party bookings as bars and clubs were closed.

More than 6,600 guests and some hosts were suspended in 2021 for attempting to violate the party ban, the company said.

Airbnb also announced the introduction of a neighborhood support helpline to “facilitate direct communication with neighbors regarding potential parties in progress or concerns with any nearby listings.”

“We are, at the end of the day, an open marketplace, we are making real-world connections, and we are often a mirror of society. And no solution is 100 percent perfect,” Banerjee said.


TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms
Updated 17 August 2022

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms
  • Critics and lawmakers accuse TikTok and rival social media companies of doing too little to stop political misinformation and divisive content from spreading on their apps

LONDON: TikTok will work to prevent content creators from posting paid political messages on the short-form video app, as part of its preparation for the US midterm election in November, the company said on Wednesday.
Critics and lawmakers accuse TikTok and rival social media companies including Meta Platforms and Twitter of doing too little to stop political misinformation and divisive content from spreading on their apps.
While TikTok has banned paid political ads since 2019, campaign strategists have skirted the ban by paying influencers to promote political issues.
The company seeks to close the loophole by hosting briefings with creators and talent agencies to remind them that posting paid political content is against TikTok’s policies, said Eric Han, TikTok’s head of US safety, during a briefing with reporters.
He added that internal teams, including those that work on trust and safety, will monitor for signs that creators are being paid to post political content, and the company will also rely on media reports and outside partners to find violating posts.
“We saw this as an issue in 2020,” Han said. “Once we find out about it ... we will remove it from our platform.”
TikTok broadcast its plan following similar updates from Meta and Twitter.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said Tuesday it will restrict political advertisers from running new ads a week before the election, an action it also took in 2020.
Last week, Twitter said it planned to revive previous strategies for the midterm election, including placing labels in front of some misleading tweets and inserting reliable information into timelines to debunk false claims before they spread further online. Civil and voting rights experts said the plan was not adequate to prepare for the election.


Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
Updated 17 August 2022

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
  • The airline’s CEO stated that the its sponsorship is in line with its vision to support all efforts promoting Jordan

AMMAN: Royal Jordanian Airlines is sponsoring the inaugural City Talk, a forum for Arab influencers due to take place in Jordan in early October, the Jordan News Agency reported on Tuesday. The airline said that it will also serve as official carrier for the forum’s guests from across the region.

The event is being organized by the Jordan Tourism Board and Omnes Media, a digital-media and communications platform based in Dubai.

Royal Jordanian CEO Samer Majali said the airline’s sponsorship of the event reflects its vision and desire to support all initiatives and events that promote Jordan.

He added that by attracting social media content creators and marketing industry professionals from across the Arab world, the forum will help to market the culture and heritage of Jordan and its tourism sector.

City Talk is scheduled to take place Oct. 2-5 at King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center near Sweimeh, on the Dead Sea shore. More than 500 Arab social media influencers and industry leaders are expected to attend.

The forum will explore and discuss recent advances in the marketing and advertising industry. The schedule includes six panel discussions and six workshops, along with daily meetings with influential Arab figures.


Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
Updated 16 August 2022

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
  • The streamer will work with Sard, a regional hub for scriptwriters, to help local women develop their creative writing and storytelling skills
  • Netflix wants to create ‘more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,’ said Ahmed Sharkawi, its director of Arabic series

DUBAI: Netflix has partnered with Sard, a dedicated hub for scriptwriters in the Arab world, to coach women in creative writing and help them to develop their storytelling and creative-expression skills through the latest in a series of Because She Created programs.

It is the latest development in an initiative launched last year as a virtual panel discussion to give female Arab filmmakers a chance to talk about the evolving role of women in the regional film industry. Netflix then teamed up with the Cairo International Film Festival for a second Because She Created event, which was a fireside chat with renowned Tunisian actress Hend Sabry.

In July this year, the company used the platform to present a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films designed to shine a light on the work of Arab women in film. 

The writing program, which will take place in Cairo, is designed to provide an incubator for the untapped talents of 20 women from outside of the city and introduce them to the creative tools and industry insight they need to advance their creative and professional development.

“Sard believes that expressing oneself through writing is the first step to self-discovery and we’re proud to have discovered talent through this program that we feel will one day become the scriptwriters of the future,” said Mariam Naoum, the founder and CEO of Sard.

Although Egypt and the wider Arab world is “ripe with talent,” the region needs a “concerted effort and professional support” to help that local talent grow, she added.

“Women in the region, in particular, need this kind of incubation and technical support to gain access to opportunities that advance their professional growth in an industry where their presence is still limited,” said Naoum.

“Sard is trying to achieve this through the work we do and through partnerships with organizations like Netflix that help steer talent in the right direction.”

The five-day program will include storytelling classes, sessions on creative expression, and discussions and talks led by established professionals in the entertainment industry. It will also feature daily activities, including trips to the theater and cinema.

“At Netflix, we recognize that being part of the creative communities comes with responsibilities and that includes the need to develop the talent pipeline and give new voices a chance to be heard,” said Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arabic series at the streaming service.

The company wants to create “more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,” he added, and “partnerships like this allow us to equip them with the skills they need to tell the best version of their stories.”

The Because She Created writing program is an initiative of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, which aims to create new opportunities for underrepresented communities within the entertainment industry through training and skills development.