Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’
Al-Banawi is on a mission to show the world that Saudi women are complex. (Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 09 September 2022

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’
  • One of Saudi cinema’s biggest stars returns in the road-trip thriller ‘Route 10’
  • Currently attending the Venice Film Festival, Fatima Al-Banawi starred in ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ – the second Saudi film to be submitted for Oscars consideration

DUBAI: Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi has made a career out of playing strong female characters. But that may not mean what you think. From her breakthrough role in 2016’s “Barakah Meets Barakah” to her latest Saudi thriller “Route 10,” the groundbreaking performer isn’t turning every part into Wonder Woman — instead, character by character, Al-Banawi is on a mission to show the world that Saudi women are complex, and that true strength is born from that complexity.

“Sometimes we think that portraying women as perfect makes them strong. To me it makes them flat,” Al-Banawi tells Arab News. “Women have different layers, and different sides. Women, like men, are imperfect. That’s what makes us human. I want to give my female characters layers of imperfection — sometimes naïve, sometimes selfish, sometimes arrogant — just like the best male characters. Otherwise, they’ll be soulless.”

Initially, “Route 10,” directed by Omar Naim (“The Final Cut,” “Becoming”) seems to be a basic genre film — all thrills, no depth. Al-Banawi plays Maryam, a woman traveling by road with her brother from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to attend their father’s wedding — a trip that turns a lot more dangerous when a stranger starts hunting them, apparently set on killing them, turning a routine road trip into a race for their lives.

Looks, Al-Banawi argues, can be deceiving.

“I realized a long time ago that you can package things that are deep and meaningful and that hit a real emotional cord within different genres. I started my career with a rom-com, ‘Barakah Meets Barakah,’ that achieved that, and now, with ‘Route 10,’ I can do that with a thriller,” she says.

“I’m always trying to shuffle things, to repackage things. I say to myself, ‘I did this, so now I need to do this.’ I played a superstar on stage who wants the spotlight on her, so after that I wanted to play a naïve little girl. I want to tap into different elements of people — of women — that I can play and thus highlight on the silver screen,” Al-Banawi continues.

Six years removed from her breakout performance in Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which was only the second Saudi film to ever be submitted for Academy Awards consideration, Al-Banawi has honed her skills impressively, pushing herself as an actor and a person to make each role something both distinct and fully formed, a representation of who she is while also being something totally removed from herself.

For “Route 10,” she went as deeply into the character as possible, laser-focused on the fact that Maryam is a Saudi female doctor, and making choices in the moment that were unscripted to highlight the many facets of her being. At times, she embraced the principles of method acting, and just as the actor Marlon Brando famously would add certain physical flourishes to his scenes because he instinctually felt they would fit the character, Al-Banawi did too.

“In one major sequence, my character approaches the body of a policeman, and I insisted I feel the (pulse) of that policeman. There was resistance on set, people said a Saudi woman would not do that. I said: ‘No, I’m playing a doctor.’ I wanted to relate to all the female doctors both in Saudi Arabia and outside of Saudi Arabia, and those doctors have instincts. Doctors try to save who is in front of them, and if someone is injured, they act without thinking. As an actor, I do so much research that, when the time comes, I have to act without thinking. I had to become in tune with how doctors deal with every situation, and that was what fueled every aspect of my performance,” she explains.

Maryam may be a doctor with the strength to take charge in a life or death situation, but Al-Banawi stresses that the character has her flaws, too.

“She lives alone. She’s independent. But she longs for family,” she says. “She lost her mother a year ago. She’s grieving, but she never resolved her issues with all of these things. That fuels her actions in unpredictable ways.”

Al-Banawi didn’t always dream of becoming an actor. She studied psychology at Effat University in Jeddah before traveling to Harvard University for her post-graduate degree in theological studies. She focused on women, gender and Islamic studies, diving into religious texts and related materials and becoming fascinated in how important storytelling was throughout history.

She started tracing those lines to the present day, contemplating how the storytelling of ancient times aligns with the storytelling of the contemporary world — a passion that drove her, after graduating, to theater; becoming a storyteller herself. It was, she says, never her plan to become a movie star. When a script for what could become an Academy Award submission comes across your desk, however, plans change.

“I didn’t know this was going to come my way. Maybe I was manifesting it. I didn’t see cinema as my future. Honestly, I’m really surprised with where I am today. Throughout all this change, I’m still trying to figure out my path,” says Al-Banawi. “I want to lead, but usually a leader has experience — usually a leader knows where to go. I’m leading as I’m experiencing. I don’t know the route, but I do have a strong impulse to be true to myself, to not compromise, and to be clear-minded at all times. Those principles are my guide forward, and I’m happily surprised with where they’ve gotten me,” she adds.

As the film industry in Saudi Arabia, and the wider Arab world as a whole, continues its rapid development, with a diverse array of voices showing they have unique stories to tell, Al-Banawi is taking care not to rush her own development to try to match the pace of others, selecting projects that suit what’s best for her own journey.

“Things are changing fast, but I don’t need to be as fast as change. I need to be as fast as I need to be to grow,” she says. “It’s not about taking on as many roles as I can, it’s about diversifying, putting together a skill set and mastering it. Then, I can allow that to be contagious, in a way; to spread it, to share and grow collectively with those around me rather than just individually. I envision bigger things for both myself and us all.”

Next, Al-Banawi’s path leads her to writing, directing, and co-producing her first feature film, “Basma,” which she’s aiming to release by the end of 2023. While taking on a feature herself is a daunting task, one that fills her with a range of emotions, she knows exactly how she’s going to do it: By allowing herself the same complexity as a person and an artist that she allows her characters.

“I’m a vulnerable and fragile person right now. It’s my first feature. As an actor, I’ve read so many scripts. I think, ‘Who am I to write my own?’ But now I’m just allowing myself to be vulnerable, taking this as a form of strength. Everything I’ve learned on set has led to this moment, has fueled who I will become as a writer and a director, and as a leader. I’m putting together a team of extraordinary people, and it will be amazing to watch them shine,” says Al-Banawi.

“I can’t talk about my own contributions too much,” she adds with a smile. “Let’s wait and see what I bring to the table.”


Qatar Creates, CR Runway announce fashion show at FIFA World Cup

Qatar Creates, CR Runway announce fashion show at FIFA World Cup
Updated 28 November 2022

Qatar Creates, CR Runway announce fashion show at FIFA World Cup

Qatar Creates, CR Runway announce fashion show at FIFA World Cup

DUBAI: Qatar Creates and CR Runway announced a fashion show, featuring more than 150 designers from 50 countries, set to take place on Dec. 16 at the FIFA World Cup.

The event will feature performances by the likes of DJ Snake, Kadim Al-Sahir, Khaled, Nancy Ajram, Ozuna, Zakes Bantwini and more with the proceeds going to Education Above All, a Qatari charity that aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for vulnerable and marginalized people, with a focus on the developing world.

A poster for the event. (Supplied)

Twenty-one Qatari brands will take part in the show, which will be made up of four choreographed runway presentations.

The show will feature an opening act with national ambassadors representing the 32 countries in the World Cup, all sporting customized jerseys. Then, two local Qatari brands — Aliya Al-Obaidly and Harlienz — will put on a performance entitled “Where the Sand Touches the Sea,” inspired by Qatar’s traditional practices of pearl diving.

The second act, titled “The Fashion World Tour,” will showcase works from designers from six continents. The third and final act, “One Night in Qatar,” will showcase haute couture and eveningwear created exclusively by international designers and brands for Qatar Fashion United by CR Runway.

The Qatar-based brands participating in the event are 1309, Al-Dukan, Aliya Al-Obaidly, Tamader Al-Sultan, Drizzle, Ghada Al-Buainain, Hairaat, Hamadis, Harlienz, Kaltham’s Pavilion, Lorenaa Michelle, Maryam Al-Darwish, Mhefhef, Muna Saad, Naila Al-Thani, Trzi, TIIYA, WAAD Designs, WADHA, Wit Noiz and Yasmin Mansour.


Bella Hadid shares behind-the-scenes snaps from Swarovski shoot

Bella Hadid shares behind-the-scenes snaps from Swarovski shoot
Updated 28 November 2022

Bella Hadid shares behind-the-scenes snaps from Swarovski shoot

Bella Hadid shares behind-the-scenes snaps from Swarovski shoot

DUBAI: US Palestinian Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid has given fans a behind-the-scenes look at her latest campaign for Austrian jewelry label Swarovski.

Hadid, who was announced as the label’s brand ambassador in May, took to Instagram to share photographs from the set of her latest shoot. In the snaps, the model is dressed as a bedazzled fairy, complete with a set of delicate wings.

The model shared behind-the-scenes shots from her latest shoot for Swarovski. (Instagram)

The 26-year-old catwalk star took to Instagram earlier this year to share the news of her brand ambassadorship with her 56.4 million followers, writing: “Extremely honored and excited to be the new face of the iconic Swarovski.”

“Bella Hadid sums up the individualistic and transformative attitude of a new global generation,” said Engelbert in a statement at the time. “She is a multifaceted character who evades the boxes of rules and conformity. She goes from sporty to glamorous while remaining the same girl — the same Bella — with confidence and authority.

“Today, crystals are a dynamic part of our everyday wardrobe: A way of accentuating your individual style in a way that can be as casual as it can be elaborate. Bella is the poster girl for this state of mind,” added Engelbert.

Meanwhile, Hadid said she was “very familiar” with the “timeless and iconic brand” before the partnership.

“I love the new collections and what the brand has been doing, especially these past two years under the creative vision of Giovanna, and I really see Swarovski as the contemporary jewelry brand of the future,” she said- in a released statement. “Jewelry is about expression and celebrating individuality — Swarovski celebrates all people and the idea of modern glamour, and I love that.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by SWAROVSKI (@swarovski)

 

Hadid was recently named British GQ magazine’s “most stylish person on the planet” for 2023 in a statement that mirrored Swarovski’s sentiments regarding the model’s ability to traverse various fashion styles and pull them off with aplomb.

The magazine commended Hadid for her  “ability to make menswear, womenswear, smartwear and even wavywear work.

“Hadid does menswear better than most men — and she can still wear everything and anything else. Tailoring. Prada loafers. Big denim jackets. There was even a tie at one point. It’s wavy, classic and uncomplicated all at once,” the magazine added.


The Bicester Collection launches MENA edition of Unlock Her Future entrepreneurship prize

The Bicester Collection launches MENA edition of Unlock Her Future entrepreneurship prize
Desiree Bollier in the Chair and Global Chief Merchant of The Bicester Collection. (Getty Images)
Updated 28 November 2022

The Bicester Collection launches MENA edition of Unlock Her Future entrepreneurship prize

The Bicester Collection launches MENA edition of Unlock Her Future entrepreneurship prize

DUBAI: An international retail firm has launched the MENA edition of a prize for first-time women entrepreneurs that would allow them to set up or develop their startup businesses.

The Middle East and North Africa edition of The Bicester Collection’s “Unlock her Future Prize” was announced for enterprises that drive positive environmental, social and economic change, according to the company.

The Bicester Collection is a group of 11 open-air shopping destinations across Europe and China, which includes the Bicester Village outlet mall in Oxfordshire, UK. They launched the initiative in 2021 as part of their DO GOOD platform and have now expanded to the Middle East. 

“We’re delighted that in its inaugural year, the Unlock Her Future Prize will launch in MENA with the support of our partner Ashoka Arab World,” Chantal Khoueiry, chief culture officer for The Bicester Village, told Arab News.

“As an Arab woman, I believe I can speak for all when I say how committed we are to driving women’s empowerment and cultural progress. We recognize that if you have diverse voices, you can transcend anything. This is the essence of what we hope the Unlock Her Future Prize MENA edition 2023 will provide on behalf of Arab Women — the voice and support to build a progressive and sustainable future for people and the planet.”

Khoueiry added that applicants with an innovative idea, and those who have been operating for under five years, are invited to apply between Dec. 5 and Jan. 31, 2023.

An international committee of experts will review the applications and shortlist eight finalists who will be invited to pitch their ideas in Bicester Village, UK, to a panel of judges from the MENA region. Three winners will be announced on International Women’s Day next year.

“The winners will each receive a financial grant of up to $100,000 plus human capital support from a fantastic assembly of global experts.” They will also have access to an education and knowledge program with the prize’s regional academic partner, New York University Abu Dhabi, said Khoueiry.

  


Review: ‘The Guardians of Galaxy Holiday Special’ brings festive cheer to MCU

Review: ‘The Guardians of Galaxy Holiday Special’ brings festive cheer to MCU
Updated 28 November 2022

Review: ‘The Guardians of Galaxy Holiday Special’ brings festive cheer to MCU

Review: ‘The Guardians of Galaxy Holiday Special’ brings festive cheer to MCU

LONDON: Viewers over a certain age may find that the phrase “Holiday Special” sends a shiver down their spine, but fear not — James Gunn and the Marvel factory are here to cleanse your palette. Gunn, recently announced as the new head of the DC cinematic universe, still has one more Marvel movie on the horizon, but before “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” hits cinemas in 2023, the director has reunited with the ragtag group of heroes for a seasonal one-shot on the Disney+ streaming platform — the latest in Marvel’s series of Special Presentations after October’s “Werewolf by Night.”

In an attempt to cheer up fellow Guardian Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Mantis and Drax (Pom Klementieff and Dave Bautista) set out to give their friend an Earth-style Christmas, complete with lights, decorations and gifts. Except that their idea for a gift is to journey to Earth and kidnap actor Kevin Bacon, star of Quill’s favorite childhood movie, “Footloose.” Cue a series of comic interactions between the superhero Guardians and Earth’s population as they chase down and abduct Bacon and whisk him into space.

Unlike the now infamous 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special,” this festive “Guardians” installment is as slick as the wider cinematic universe. For starters, it has excellent production values, appearances from all the Guardians (including Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Vin Diesel as Groot, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, and Maria Bakalova as new member Cosmo), and a story that, while light and throwaway, still fits into the wider MCU narrative. If anything, this is more of a scene-setting exercise for “Volume 3” than a seasonal cash-in. Gunn, and his ensemble cast, have clearly grown to love these characters as much as anyone, so there’s a feeling of playful reverence about this “Holiday Special” — not to mention a welcome sense that, while it’s silly and festive, this is as important to the Marvel timeline as any of the big-screen movies.


Concert calendar: This week’s major concerts at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 

Concert calendar: This week’s major concerts at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 
Lil Baby will perform in Qatar on Dec. 3. (File/ AFP)
Updated 28 November 2022

Concert calendar: This week’s major concerts at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 

Concert calendar: This week’s major concerts at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 

DUBAI: For fans making their way to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, here are this week’s major concerts set to take place alongside the football festivities.  

Monday, Nov. 28: The ARAVIA festival will feature performances by Scooter, Vegie and Sokkary. The Arcadia Music Festival will kick off with Hernan Cattaneo, Miss Monique, Argy, Jonas Saalbach, Alfa Romero, Mark Knight, Tita Lau, Ferry Corsten, Nervo, ATB, Martin Jensen, Cedric Gervais, Burak Yeter and Joselito.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MDLBEAST (@mdlbeast)

Tuesday, Nov. 29: Rae Sremmurd, Dabous and Laymoon will take to the turntables at the ARAVIA festival, while the Arcadia festival will host Gorgon City, Argy, Jonas Saalbach, Alfa Romero, Citizen Kain, Vidal Rodriguez, ATB, Nervo, Burak Yeter, Ferry Corsten, Cedric Gervais, Martin Jensen, Burak Yeter and Mark Knight. British DJ Pete Tong will meet his fans at Bud World Club, while Canadian singer Nora Fatehi will perform at the FIFA Fan Festival.

Wednesday, Nov. 30: Gordo, Dabous and Laymoon will perform at the ARAVIA festival as the Arcadia Music Festival hosts Sebastien Leger, Argy, Citizen Kain, Jonas Saalbach, Alfa Romero, Vidal Rodriguez, Nervo, Ferry Corsten, ATB, Cedric Gervais, Mark Knight, Burak Yeter, Martin Jensen, and Block & Crown. Spanish singer Omar Montes will meet his fans at the FIFA Fan Festival as Colombian singer Ryan Castro opens the Qetaifan Beach Festival on Qetaifan Island North in Lusail.

Thursday, Dec. 1: Sebastian Ingrosso, Against Celebrities and DJ Leen will take to the stage at ARAVIA, while Dmitri Vegas & Like Mike, Nervo, Ferry Corsten, Gorgon City, ATB, Cedric Gervais, Mark Knight, Burak Yeter and Block & Crown perform at Daydream Festival in the Doha Golf Club, Al-Egla. Brazilian singer Ludmilla meet her fans at Bud World Cup and US singer Trinidad Cardona’s gig will be at the FIFA Fan Festival.

Friday, Dec. 2: Against Celebrities and DJ Leen will perform again at ARAVIA along with US rapper Tyga. The Daydream Festival will feature performances by Armin Van Buuren, Sam Feldt, Ferry Corsten, ATB, Mark Knight and Burak Yeter. DJ Aseel will be at the FIFA Fan Festival.

Saturday, Dec. 3: ARAVIA will feature Benny Benassi, Sin Tek and Sheiq. Arcadia will host Sebastien Leger, Ae:ther, Armonica, Vidal Rodriguez, Joselito, ATB, Ferry Corsten, Cedric Gervais, Burak Yeter and Mark Knight. Lil Baby will perform at the Bud World Cup zone, while Gims will hit the stage at the FIFA Fan Festival.