Is Arab filmmaking really male dominated? 

Is Arab filmmaking really male dominated? 
(L to R): Haifa Al-Mansour, Fatma Zohra Zamoum, Marianne Khoury, Farah Nabulsi, Mariyam Touzani, Nadine Labaki. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 August 2022

Is Arab filmmaking really male dominated? 

Is Arab filmmaking really male dominated? 
  • Many opinions fail to recognize the strides made by female Arab filmmakers or their pioneering industry role
  • While media play into stereotypes, female Arab filmmakers are increasing in number and influence

JEDDAH: “In a very male-dominated Arab filmmaking industry, the passionate and visionary Nayla Al-Khaja was determined to cut through the status quo and establish a name for her own,” read a tweet promoting the August issue of Arabian Moda magazine.

Coming from a Western media outlet, misconceptions such as this might be understandable, but when it comes from an Arab magazine, it raises the question of how the giant strides made by female Arab filmmakers are constantly ignored, sometimes in the name of promoting one of their own.

Al-Khaja, the first Emirati female film writer, director and producer, whose movies have been shown at over 42 festivals internationally, has won dozens of awards and accolades for both her filmmaking and entrepreneurship.

From setting the narrative to starting a dialogue, female Arab filmmakers like her are increasing in influence and number, and making their presence felt internationally, despite the media’s predilection for condescending cliches.

Their presence may seem like a modern development, but the phenomenon actually dates back to the 1920s and 30s, a period when women were among the pioneers of regional cinema.

Arab women of the era often completed entire projects by themselves, such as legendary Egyptian filmmaker Aziza Amir, who both starred in and produced what film scholars say was the first-ever Egyptian film, “Laila,” in 1927. Amir was the producer and star of 25 films throughout her life.

Today, Arab female filmmakers continue to be a driving force of the industry, making their mark despite shallow media depictions that feed existing social biases and gender prejudices.

“Women in independent cinema in the region have made progressive strides far more than in Europe and the US, and it happened naturally, especially with the advent of film festivals in the region that provided opportunities for filmmakers,” Egyptian film critic and curator Joseph Fahim told Arab News.

“This is one of the most fascinating aspects of modern Arab cinema, as women filmmakers find greater representation. Films selected in film festivals across the region are at least 50 percent by women, more or less, depending on the year.”

Egyptian film critic and curator Joseph Fahim. (Supplied)

A study by Northwestern University in the US commissioned by the Doha Film Institute found that 26 percent of independent Arab filmmakers are women, compared to 4 percent in the West and 9 percent in America. Approximately 25 percent of all new directors in Morocco, Tunisia, and Lebanon are female. In Qatar, nearly 60 percent of emerging filmmakers are women.

According to Fahim, while it is true that the gender of the director often influences the public response to a film, it should not detract from the filmmaker’s achievements.

“Every region progresses differently, and you cannot generalize it,” he said. “Filmmaking is more progressive today than journalism. A lot of what is being written is under-researched and is different from the reality of what’s happening on the ground. The reality is much more complicated.”

He added: “Things being written that undermine female Arab filmmakers are a product of reductive thinking.”

Some of the most notable female directors of the Arab region include Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, whose film “Capernaum” debuted at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

Director Nadine Labaki poses for a portrait at the 30th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on in Palm Springs, California. (File/AFP)

Labaki’s was the first film of its kind to compete for the Palme d’Or, and was also the first Oscar-nominated film by an Arab woman. Saudi director Haifa Al-Mansour’s first feature film, “Wadjda,” was nominated for a BAFTA, and Palestinian-British filmmaker Farah Nabulsi’s latest short film, “The Present,” was Oscar-nominated and won a BAFTA last year.

Saudi film director Haifa Al-Mansour walks the red carpet as she arrives at the Red Sea Film Festival, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (File/Red Sea Film Festival)

Syrian journalist Waad Al-Khateab co-directed the documentary “For Sama,” which made history by winning four BAFTA nominations — the most nominated documentary in BAFTA’s history. A few days ago, Palestinian director Cherien Dabis made history with an Emmy nomination for outstanding director for her Hulu hit series “Only Murders in the Building.”

Tunisian filmmaker Salma Baccar broke barriers when she directed “Fatma 75” in 1975, creating the first ever film to be directed by a Tunisian woman.

From her vantage point behind the camera since the 1980s, Egyptian filmmaker Marianne Khoury has helped both men and women hone their skills. For over three decades, she went against the grain of Egyptian cinema and chose independent films to explore relatively out-of-the-ordinary themes. The documentarian won the Rizkallah Audience Award at the Cairo International Film Festival for “Let’s Talk.”

 Egyptian producer Marianne Khoury receives the Audience Award during the closing ceremony of the 41st Cairo International Film Festival. (File/AFP)

Similarly, award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri, who also began her career in the early 1980s, was the first in the country to do so. “Today half the Palestinian films are directed by women,” she told the Economic Times in 2018.

At last year’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia, 38 percent of the 138 films screened happened to be directed by women, a proportion unthinkable in other parts of the world.

Fittingly, the festival honored Al-Mansour for her contribution to the industry and championed female empowerment in film. She received a Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum’s 2019 meeting in Davos for her leadership in cultural transformation in the Arab World.

Today, many female filmmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure fair representation for their narratives. Each has a story to tell, and as Fahim says, the stories each woman can tell are molded by circumstances, restrictions, and censorship, all of which differ from one country to the next.

Moroccan film director Maryam Touzani poses during a photocall for the film “Adam” at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in southern France. (File/AFP)

Moreover, according to experts, the emergence of so many Arab female directors from Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia is remarkable considering the relative novelty of filmmaking in these countries compared to India, Egypt, the US and Europe.

Though the general understanding is that “cameras don’t make movies, people do,” filmmakers such as Sara Mesfer believe that impactful films should be celebrated in their own right, regardless of the gender, background or ethnicity of the director.

Mesfer appeared on the Saudi movie scene nearly two and a half years ago, writing and directing “The Girls Who Burned the Night,” which earned two wins and three nominations at the Carthage Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest. However, like all films, her rise in the film industry differs.

Nadine Labaki points at an object on set. (Supplied)

“The film industry across the world is a (male-dominated) field due to historical events where women’s achievements in film were undermined. Today, categorizing and placing women in certain roles best suited for them is a problem undermining their work,” she told Arab News.

“It’s easier for me to be a writer and director than a producer and cinematographer, for example, because of the false notion by some that ‘women cannot carry cameras,’ boxing women in a category they must follow.”

She said that at the beginning of her career, the media was more focused on her being a female director, more specifically being a Saudi female director, than on the films she made.

Farah Nabulsi attends the 93rd Annual Academy Awards at Union Station in Los Angeles, California. (File/AFP)

Noting that the Saudi film industry is still in its infancy, she said that being a female director is something that undoubtedly attracts the media’s attention. She too had felt, for a time, that the focus of the attention on her gender and her nationality was greater than on her work.

Mesfer recalled a personal experience at a film festival where Saudi women were the main subject, and most of the comments while she was on stage were about her being a Saudi woman rather than about her film.

“This action itself discriminates, and (the media) isn’t taking us seriously and appreciating the effort put (into the making of) the film,” she said.

Fatma Zohra Zamoum. (Supplied)

The way in which female filmmakers tell their stories on screen influences audiences and critics across the Arab world. Many believe the progress Arab women have made in the industry is neither the beginning of a female-dominated Arab film industry, nor the end of male-dominated one.

Summing up her experience as a female Arab filmmaker, Mesfer said: “Storytelling is a big wild field. There’s no one way of telling it, and it’s different from one person to another.

“It’s where you find yourself as a filmmaker, how comfortable you are in telling the story, and most importantly, adding your own touch, because everyone is a storyteller in their own way.”

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Woman, 90, stages sit-in at Beirut bank to obtain her deposit

Woman, 90, stages sit-in at Beirut bank to obtain her deposit
Updated 11 sec ago

Woman, 90, stages sit-in at Beirut bank to obtain her deposit

Woman, 90, stages sit-in at Beirut bank to obtain her deposit
  • Edro Khider, a disabled woman, was carried by her son to the Bank Audi branch
  • The elderly woman’s son, told Arab News: “My elderly mother and father need the equivalent of $1,000 per month for medicines and medical examinations”

BEIRUT: How ordinary Lebanese are suffering during the country’s financial crisis came under the spotlight on Tuesday when a 90-year-old woman staged a sit-in at a Beirut bank, demanding her deposit that is frozen for three years.
Edro Khider, a disabled woman, was carried by her son to the Bank Audi branch in the Salim Salam neighborhood in Beirut. When the bank’s management refused to release the $20,000 deposit, the woman decided to stage a sit-in inside the bank.
Bank holdups by depositors decreased during the current month, after they intensified during October, and included retired security men, a parliament MP, and businessmen.
Hussein Khider, the elderly woman’s son, told Arab News: “We are in the bank and will not leave until we get the deposit. My elderly mother and father need the equivalent of $1,000 per month for medicines and medical examinations, and we can no longer afford them. We, the four children, can no longer afford this exorbitant amount.”
Khider said his mother has been sick for five years, and during this period “we did not demand the deposit, and we did not sign any agreement with the bank to obtain it according to the decisions that authorize it to be paid in installments, but now we are no longer able to cover the cost of medical treatment.
“My mother saved the amount over the years from the money we gave her. She saved $100-200 each time and put them in the bank for the rainy day. The day has come, and they are not allowing her to get the deposit.”
He said his father, also in his 90s, needed open-heart surgery, and he has a financial deposit in the bank, but the bank refused to release, and now he lives on medicines that prolong his life to a minimum.”
Khider said: “The security forces surround the bank, but they are not interested in what happens inside the bank. The bank’s management informed me that it is ready to release the deposit according to Resolution 158, which means that it will give us $4,000. The bank manager said that he will give us an additional gift of $2,000. We refused; we want the full amount. Is he giving it to me from his pocket? It’s my mother’s money.”
He described the negotiations with the bank’s management as “procrastination, and no one is interested in a solution. There is an incomprehensible indifference.”
Musa Ghazi, the media official of the Depositors Outcry Association, which is following up on the case of Khider and his mother, told Arab News that “more tragic cases will be witnessed by banks in the coming days.”
Bank holdups by depositors came as a result of the failure of the political authority to resolve the issue.
Lebanese banks accuse the political authority of having withdrawn from banks, through the central bank, $62.670 trillion of deposits and wasting money on subsidies, fixing the exchange rate, high interests, electricity, the state’s import needs, and others.
The Association of Banks says that “the public sector has squandered the funds of the private sector. The state and its institutions have squandered the funds of depositors and the capital of bank shareholders.
“The most dangerous thing that the public sector has done is that it has placed the responsibility of solving its problems on the private sector and reached into its savings. Today, the state distances itself and establishes itself as arbiter between depositors and banks.”
Depositors accuse the banks of smuggling their money and the money of politicians abroad, and that the banks and the state are both accused of looting people’s deposits.

Minister calls for maintaining EU-Jordan cooperation

Minister calls for maintaining EU-Jordan cooperation
Updated 57 min 3 sec ago

Minister calls for maintaining EU-Jordan cooperation

Minister calls for maintaining EU-Jordan cooperation
  • Nancy Namrouqa lauds EU’s contribution and support to development projects in Jordan

AMMAN: Jordan’s state minister for legal affairs, Nancy Namrouqa, has reaffirmed the significance of continuing and advancing cooperation with the EU in various fields.
After receiving the EU Ambassador to Jordan Maria Hadjitheodosiou on Tuesday, Namrouqa spoke about the government’s endeavors to conduct the three political, economic, and administrative modernization paths, described by King Abdullah as “state projects.”
The minister lauded the EU’s contribution to and support for development projects in Jordan, reported Jordan’s News Agency.
Hadjitheodosiou expressed her appreciation for the EU-Jordan partnership and praised Amman’s efforts to achieve its three modernization tracks and enhance the investment environment.

Brothers among 4 Palestinians killed in West Bank

Brothers among 4 Palestinians killed in West Bank
Updated 3 min 50 sec ago

Brothers among 4 Palestinians killed in West Bank

Brothers among 4 Palestinians killed in West Bank
  • Jawad Abd Al-Rahman Rimawi, 22,  was shot dead in Kufr Ein, near Ramallah; his brother, Thafer, 21, was shot and critically injured, and later died
  • Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister, said that the deaths of the two brothers was a “heinous crime”

RAMALLAH: Four Palestinians, including two brothers, were killed and 21 injured in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

Mufid Mahmoud Ekhlil, 44, was shot dead in the town of Beit Ummar, northern Hebron.

Nine Palestinians were injured by bullets during the confrontations and taken to nearby hospitals, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

The Israel Defense Forces said that “rioters” attacked soldiers with rocks and explosive devices after two IDF vehicles got stuck during an operational patrol near Beit Ummar.

It added: “The rioters also shot at the soldiers, who responded with riot dispersal means and live fire.”

Jawad Abd Al-Rahman Rimawi, 22,  was shot dead in Kufr Ein, near Ramallah. His brother, Thafer, 21, was shot and critically injured, and later died.

Rani Abu Ali, 45, from Betunia, west of Ramallah, was killed following a car accident involving a 20-year-old Israeli soldier, who was wounded.

The latest bloodshed took place amid a mounting surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the wake of a Jerusalem bombing last week that killed two Israelis.

A general strike in Ramallah and some surrounding towns was called to mourn the deaths of the two brothers.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst and vice president of Birzeit University, told Arab News that there is a clear indication of an Israeli policy of escalation.

He added that he believes the soldiers’ incursions into Palestinian cities and villages will increase in the light of the ultra right-wing Israeli government being formed under Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and including Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

He said: “We are facing a revolt and an escalation of violence because a popular Palestinian reaction will meet every attack of the Israeli army.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian presidential spokesperson, said the Israeli government “bears full responsibility for these crimes and must be held accountable for them,” noting that successive right-wing governments have declared daily war on the Palestinian people.

He added: “The American administration also bears a great responsibility for the occupation and authorities’ continuous crimes against our people, as it is the only sponsor of the occupying state in the world, in arms and financing and at international forums.

Abu Rudeineh said the US administration needed to take action to deter Israel from carrying out crimes that destabilized the region.

Some 205 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of this year, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister, said that the deaths of the two brothers was a “heinous crime.”

He added: “With the continued declaration of war on our people, and the new Israeli government, we call on the world’s countries to intervene urgently to stop the Israeli killing machine and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Hundreds of Palestinians attended the funerals of the victims in Ramallah and Hebron, and chanted slogans condemning the crimes of the Israeli occupation, and calling for their cessation.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, from the Palestine Liberation Organization, tweeted that the deaths of the brothers was an “awful crime committed by the occupation forces.” He added that execution in cold blood is “fascist behavior.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said: “The Israeli occupation is trying desperately to stop the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people, through killings and assassinations, but this blood will be fuel for our people’s revolution and continuous uprising.”

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, outgoing Israeli defense minister, said he had approved the construction of 10,000 units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that settlements, especially in the Jordan Valley, must be strengthened.

In addition, Yair Lapid, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, has sent more than 50 world leaders a letter calling on them to exert their influence on the Palestinian Authority to prevent the General Assembly vote on an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This resolution is the outcome of a concerted effort to single out Israel, to discredit our legitimate security concerns, and to delegitimize our very existence,” Lapid said in the letter.

IRGC threatens Iranian footballers’ families ahead of US match

IRGC threatens Iranian footballers’ families ahead of US match
Updated 29 November 2022

IRGC threatens Iranian footballers’ families ahead of US match

IRGC threatens Iranian footballers’ families ahead of US match
  • Players warned their relatives face arrest, torture if they do not back regime in final group game
  • Source tells CNN IRGC has flooded Qatar with operatives, officials to monitor players

LONDON: Iran’s footballers at the World Cup in Qatar have been warned that their families could be imprisoned and tortured if they show any signs of protest or dissent during the team’s final group game on Tuesday.

In their opening game against England, the Iranian players refused to sing the national anthem in a show of solidarity with protests across the country, but did participate during the second game against Wales.

A source told CNN, ahead of the match against the US, that the players had been informed in a meeting with members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that “violence and torture” awaited their relatives if they did not “behave” this time.

It marked a severe change in tone, the source added, as prior to the World Cup the team had been promised lavish gifts if they performed well at the tournament.

Coach Carlos Queiroz also had a separate meeting with IRGC officials, but it is not known what was discussed.

Queiroz had previously said his players could protest as long as it met with criteria established by FIFA.

The source said “dozens” of IRGC members are in Qatar to monitor the players, who are not allowed to meet with or talk to foreigners for the duration of the competition.

“There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,” the source told CNN.

“In the last game against Wales, the regime sent over hundreds of these actor supporters in order to create a false sense of support and favor amongst the fans.

“For the next game against the US, the regime is planning to significantly increase the number of actors into the thousands.”

Protests have engulfed Iran since September following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police, for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands arrested, with many facing execution.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called the situation a “full-fledged human rights crisis.”

Thousands of Iranian fans have taken their protests to World Cup venues, holding anti-regime banners, calling for women’s rights to be protected, and booing the national anthem.

UAE set to launch rover to the moon Wednesday

UAE set to launch rover to the moon Wednesday
Updated 29 November 2022

UAE set to launch rover to the moon Wednesday

UAE set to launch rover to the moon Wednesday
  • Rashid rover will blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, tomorrow (Nov.30)
  • If the lunar mission succeeded, the UAE would be the fourth country to land on the moon.

DUBAI: The UAE has completed the final preparations to launch its rover to the moon in the Arab world’s first lunar mission, it was announced on Tuesday.

Rashid rover will blast off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, US, on Wednesday, Nov. 30, embarking on a five-month journey to the moon.

In a statement, Japan-based ispace inc. announced it had completed the integration of its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander into the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“We are pleased to have finished the first phase of the Mission 1 with the final preparations before launch completed,” said Takeshi Hakamada, Founder and CEO of ispace.

“To do this, we utilized a design and development model that balanced reliability and low costs by employing proven technologies and components from around the world,” he added.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) invited viewers from all over the world to watch the launch live at 12:39pm UAE time (GMT+4).



The rover will land on the “unexplored moon surface at Atlas Crater, on the southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (“Sea of Cold”)” in April 2023, the center said.

“The target site criteria were carefully considered by the Emirates Lunar Mission Team, including the duration of continuous sun illumination and communication visibility from Earth,” the MBRSC said in a statement. Once launched, the integrated spacecraft will take a low-energy route to the moon rather than a direct approach.

If the lunar mission succeeded, the UAE would be the fourth country to land on the moon.

The 10kg Rashid rover will study the properties of lunar soil, mobility on the lunar surface, the petrography and geology of the moon, dust movement, and study surface plasma conditions and the moon’s photoelectron sheath.

It will send data and images back to Earth, using two high-resolution cameras: Microscopic, and thermal imaging ones, said the mission’s team.

The lunar mission was the latest of the UAE’s effort in space exploration. Earlier in February 2021, the UAE made history by landing its Hope probe to Mars, becoming the first Arab nation to launch an unmanned mission to the red planet.