‘We have so many stories to tell,’ breakout Saudi Netflix star Nour Alkhadra says

‘We have so many stories to tell,’ breakout Saudi Netflix star Nour Alkhadra says
With lead roles in two of the region’s most exciting new films, Netflix’s “The Matchmaker” and “HWJN,” Alkhadra will have to add another line to her bio: 2023’s breakout female Saudi star. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 May 2023
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‘We have so many stories to tell,’ breakout Saudi Netflix star Nour Alkhadra says

‘We have so many stories to tell,’ breakout Saudi Netflix star Nour Alkhadra says
  • The video game streamer and entrepreneur has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the film business since taking up acting during the COVID pandemic 

DUBAI: It’s a strange thing, forging an identity. For years, Saudi actress Nour Alkhadra knew exactly how to introduce herself: “Hello, I’m Nour, and I’m a streamer and gaming entrepreneur.” That’s what she studied, that’s what she had dedicated her life to—that’s what she was profiled as in the pages of this newspaper.  

How quickly things can change. With lead roles in two of the region’s most exciting new films, Netflix’s “The Matchmaker” and “HWJN,” Alkhadra will have to add another line to her bio: 2023’s breakout female Saudi star. 

All of this started during COVID-19 lockdowns. Until then, Alkhadra was living in London, focusing on her gaming company WeGeek and her popular Twitch streaming account. The path forward seemed clear.  

“Then COVID happened, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, who am I? Why am I?’ It was a lot of depressive stuff,” Alkhadra tells Arab News.  

“Then I put everything aside and started thinking about what I really felt like doing, deep down. I realized there was something I always wanted to do but had never tried: acting. So I started taking classes in London, and I fell in love with it. I wanted to start pursuing roles instantly,” she continues.  

Alkhadra had lived outside of Saudi Arabia for 11 years, and a lot had changed since she left. While she had always loved performing in front of her family growing up, acting as a career was never a possibility, so it wasn’t a dream she entertained. But as she pursued a different life for herself, her home country began to transform, and a powerful new film industry was on the brink of taking off. Alkhadra wanted to be a part of it.  




Nour Alkhadra in “The Matchmaker.” (Supplied)

“I didn’t want to act just anywhere,” she says. “I wanted to act in Saudi. We have so many stories to tell. But when I moved back to Saudi two and a half years ago, I didn’t actually know anyone in the film scene. I started scrolling online forums no one really looks at, and trying to find somewhere to post an audition.”  

Alkhadra quickly started making contacts, landing a few roles in TV series. It was all happening quite fast. So fast, in fact, that when she saw a listing for the film “HWJN,” based on the best-selling fantasy novel in Saudi history, she didn’t even have a showreel to send out, as nothing she’d filmed had been released at the time. Undeterred, she came up with a different plan. 




Nour Alkhadra shooting “The Matchmaker” in AlUla. (Supplied)

“I didn’t have anything to show, but I did have a tape of myself I’d filmed at home where I’d taken scenes from movies and reenacted them in front of my camera. I had done two scenes from (Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic) ‘Pulp Fiction,’ taking Uma Thurman’s role of Mia Wallace in the exchange in the dining room with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, and Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic ‘Ezekiel 25:17’ monologue. That’s what I sent to them as a tape,” says Alkhadra. 

It never should have worked — but beneath the rough edges, that tape had a quality that Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri couldn’t deny.  




Nour Alkhadra (right) with her fellow “HWJN” cast members Alanoud Saud and Baraa Alem at the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022. (Supplied)

“The director messaged me saying, ‘I saw your Pulp Fiction thing. I liked it. I really like the way you express things with your eyes and your face without the need for words. I was surprised he saw all that from that little video, but I played it casual. I said, ‘OK, cool.’ And that’s how I got my first movie,” says Alkhadra.  

“HWJN is a romance between a supernatural being and a human—I play the human. It was such an honor, because it’s Saudi’s first fantasy film,” she continues. “I’m so excited to be a part of it.” 

Alkhadra came back to Saudi to break ground, and followed up the Kingdom’s first fantasy with its first psychological thriller, a Netflix original entitled “The Matchmaker,” which was filmed in historic AlUla. She would once again play the love interest, but this time not one to be trusted. In it, she lures an unsuspecting man to take part in an ancient matchmaking ritual in the desert, a ritual which includes a lot less romance than he may have suspected.   

“After I was cast, I went to Riyadh to meet with the director. We sat down and started off with, ‘OK, why is she like this?’ We then started coming up with her backstory, the depths of her pain and her anger, and even her kindness. We discovered she’s not actually a bad person, she just wants things to be fair. All that character building we did made it so much deeper — and it made her really make sense to me,” says Alkhadra.  

Coming up this woman’s story, she could immediately feel, had awakened a creative impulse inside her. She started thinking of all those days and nights during lockdown when she sat in bed, making herself miserable with anxiety, She’d struggled with it for years, never able to shut her mind off, endlessly creating scenarios in her head for things that may never happen. But anxiety, she realized, might be misplaced creativity.  

“I always used to think of my wild imagination as a curse. But actually, in writing, it’s a blessing. I knew if I wrote, I would be able to put my weakness to work for me,” says Alkhadra. 

While there are more movie roles on the horizon, including another with Saudi production company Telfaz11 directed by Wael Abumansour which hasn’t been announced yet that should be hitting festivals in 2024, Alkhadra is currently writing her own film, a fantasy project inspired by both movies she likes and the many video games she’s fallen in love with over the years, a passion she hasn’t let die even though she never has the time to stream anymore.  

“At first, it wasn’t even a fantasy. I was writing something from real life, inspired by a true story. I wrote the whole outline like that, but then, as I kept working, a fantasy element started developing naturally. It’s still a human story, but there’s more going on that I’m still exploring,” she says.  

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Alkhadra is emboldened, not just by her near-instant success, but by how much space is left to paint on the Saudi canvas. In a country with so many stories to tell, she’s excited to be one of those lucky enough to start telling them. 

“We’re the ones who are setting things up for the next generation. We are the generation of pioneers, and I feel extremely lucky to be able to be a part of that. Tastes in Saudi are already changing — it’s Saudi films that are at the top of the streaming charts, at the top of the box office,” she says. “It’s so beautiful to see, and I can’t wait to be a part of where this goes next.” 


Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale

Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale
Updated 58 min 42 sec ago
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Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale

Artist Abdullah Al-Saadi represents the UAE at Venice Biennale

VENICE: Emirati conceptual artist Abdullah Al-Saadi is representing the UAE at the 60th Venice Biennale, curated this year by Adriano Pedrosa under the theme of “Foreigners Everywhere. Stranieri Ovunque.” The pavilion’s exhibition, which opened on April 20 and runs until Nov. 24, was curated by Tarek Abou El-Fetouh.

Al-Saadi has played a pivotal role in the development of the UAE’s evolving art scene — his multidisciplinary practice includes the mediums of painting, drawing, sculpture, performance and photography, as well as collecting and cataloguing found objects and the creation of new alphabets.

“Since I was a student, four decades ago, art has been an integral part of my daily life,” Al-Saadi said in a statement. “My art is the result of interactions with places, people, ideas, and aesthetics that I encounter every day where I live and in my journeys. I find myself driven to document these experiences visually or in written diaries and contemplations, seeking to transfigure the ordinary with the passage of time.”

“I am representing myself in Venice as an artist foremost and then as a local Emirati artist,” Al-Saadi told Arab News. “This pavilion will showcase my artistic journey over a long period of time since after university through eight works, two of which are new commissions,” he said of the ongoing show titled “Abdullah Al-Saadi: Sites of Memory, Sites of Amnesia.”

One of the artistic journeys he made that will serve as a new artwork took place amid the Arabian landscape.

“I spent seven days in the valley studying the tea, the coffee, and bread,” Al-Saadi explained to Arab News. “Then after one week I rode my bicycle, and I went to the mountains. During that time, I was reading a book on the Silk Road and trying to imagine how it was to travel on the Silk Road and I compared my way of traveling with how it was to travel on the Silk Road long ago.”

“Abdullah’s work is comprised of multiple aspects, from his diaries to sketches, to landscapes, scrolls and other objects that he creates,” Laila Binbrek, Director of the National Pavillion UAE, explained to Arab News. “They all stem from his diary — a diary he has been keeping for the last 40 years. Every day he writes in his diary.” 


Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London

Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London
Updated 22 April 2024
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Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London

Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction highlights rare finds in London

LONDON: Christie’s Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds spring sale will see 261 lots —including paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, textiles, rugs and carpets — go under the hammer at a live auction at their London headquarters on April 25.

Arab News was given an exclusive viewing of some of the works prior to their public pre-sale showing from April 21-24.

Sara Plumbly, Christie’s Head of Department for Islamic and Indian Art, gave her expert insights into some selected pieces.

These included lot 45, an exquisite miniature octagonal Qur’an, dated AH 985/1577-8 AD, which was made in Madinah, the Qur’an has an estimate of $13,000-19,000.

“We very rarely see manuscripts that were copied in the holy cities. So this being copied in Madinah makes it very rare,” she explained.

“It has a Naskh script. This a very steady, cursive script which is relatively easy to read — unlike some of the others. For example, Nastaliq script, which is copied on the diagonal, is much trickier to read. For Qur’ans you would almost always see a Naskh script for ease of reading. Nastaliq is usually reserved for poetic manuscripts,” she said.

This miniature Qur’an would be small enough to carry with the owner on a daily basis, usually around the neck. Alternatively, they would be hung in their silver boxes on an ‘alam (standard or flag) and carried into battle.

Plumbly, who completed her master’s degree in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, has lived and travelled extensively across the Middle East and North Africa, including extended periods in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Another stunning item in the sale is a Watercolor Album depicting a selection of known prestigious and rare Iznik ceramics from the Louis Huth collection. It comprises 44 single and double-page watercolor paintings of Iznik bowls, flasks, ewers and dishes.

Watercolor paintings of Iznik bowls, flasks, ewers and dishes will go under the hammer. (Supplied)

It was also fascinating to see a rare and complete illustrated manuscript copy of the Khamsa of Nizami by 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, together with the Khamsa of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi, a 13th century Persian Sufi singer, musician, poet and scholar. The colors in the illuminations leap off the pages as though created yesterday.

Plumbly also pointed out the exceptional workmanship of an early 13th century Kashan pottery bowl, excavated in Iran’s Kashan in 1934.

A Khashan pottery bowl inscribed with three Persian quatrains, or poetic verses. (Supplied)

“This type of Kashan ceramics have a wonderful luster. It’s a very difficult technique to perfect. This bowl has a really beautiful dark gold color which is very well controlled. The condition is remarkable. It’s one of those ‘best of type’ objects,” Plumbly observed.


Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening

Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening
Updated 20 April 2024
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Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening

Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening

DUBAI: French-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella turned heads at the UK premiere of her film “Rebel Moon — Part 2: The Scargiver” in London this week.

Boutella wore a black suit from British fashion designer Stella McCartney with a cropped satin blazer and low-rise straight-leg trousers. She styled her short, dark hair in loose waves, complemented by dramatic cat-eye makeup.

In the sci-fi adventure — a sequel to last year’s “Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire” — which debuted on Netflix April 19, a peaceful colony on the edge of a galaxy finds itself threatened by the armies of a tyrannical ruling force.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Kora, played by Boutella, has assembled a small band of warriors — outsiders, insurgents, peasants and orphans of war from different worlds who share a common need for redemption and revenge, and must band together to fight the Motherworld.

Snyder previously spoke about the two-part epic space opera at Netflix’s Tudum global fan event in Brazil, where he showcased a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film, based on a concept he has been developing since college.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

“I’ve been working on this story for quite a while,” Snyder said on stage, according to Deadline. “It’s about a group of farmers on the edge of the galaxy that get visited by the armies of the Motherworld, who are the bad guys. The farmers have to decide to fight or submit.”

He continued: “I don’t want to give it all away, but if they had decided to fight, let’s say that was an option, they would have to travel around the galaxy to find warriors to fight with them. And so, it had us traveling quite a bit.”

Kora is not Algiers-born Boutella’s first role as a sword-wielding extraterrestrial. The actress, who at the age of 10 fled to Paris with her family during the Algerian civil war, is known for her breakout performance in the Oscar-nominated film, “Star Trek Beyond,” in which she portrayed the fierce alien warrior, Jaylah.


Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla
Updated 20 April 2024
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Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

DUBAI: Lebanese designer Rami Kadi presented his latest haute couture collection on Friday in AlUla with star-studded guests. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rami Kadi (@ramikadi_pvt)

 

His summer/spring designs offered something for everyone. The dresses showcased a variety of necklines, ranging from halter gowns and plunging V-shaped dresses to off-the-shoulder styles, strapless designs and more. 

 

 

The dresses, crafted from fabrics such as tulle, chiffon and crepe, exuded voluminous, glitzy and metallic aesthetics. However, there were also satin options and simpler designs available.

 

 

The collection boasted a palette of pastel hues including pink, peach, blue, green, purple, and an array of other colors such as off-white, beige, silver and gold.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rami Kadi (@ramikadi_pvt)

 

The show was a collaboration between Kadi and AlUla moments. It was attended by Lebanese superstar Najwa Karam, Saudi actress Mila Al-Zahrani, Tunisian actress Dorra Zarouk, and Saudi influencers Nojoud Al-Rumaihi and Lama Alakeel.


Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles

Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles
Updated 20 April 2024
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Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles

Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: The third annual Hollywood Arab Film Festival began this week, bringing the best of 2024’s Arab cinema to Los Angeles and giving fans a chance to see the films in theaters as well as introducing a new audience to the Arab world’s top talent.

The event, which runs until April 21, was attended by a number of celebrity guests including Egyptian producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy, Tunisian actor Dhaffer L’Abidine, renowned Egyptian star Elham Shahin and Egyptian producer Tarek El-Ganainy.

 

 

At the event, Hefty said: “Arab cinema really needs a platform to tell our stories and to show who we are, our identity, our hopes and dreams, our pains, and all the different social topics that are tackled in some of the films that are being presented are maybe more relevant today than ever. So I think it’s a great opportunity to have this dialogue.”

Hefzy’s film “Hajjan” was showing at the event. It is a Saudi Arabia-based film directed by Egyptian filmmaker Abu Bakr Shawky.

“Hajjan is a film about a young boy who got a very special connection to his camel, who has a brother who was a camel jockey and races,” Hefzy said. “And, one day when something really unexpected happens to his brother, and shatters his world, it forces him to step into his brother’s shoes and become a camel jockey, and so starts racing himself.”

The movie is a co-production between the Kingdom’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, and Hefzy’s Film Clinic.

“It was a film made in Saudi Arabia with Saudi talents and actors with an Egyptian director, but with the Saudi co-writer and Saudi actors and shot mostly in Saudi Arabia,” Hefzy said. “So I think it’s, it was a great experience, and learned a lot about Saudi Arabia, learned a lot about the culture.”

The festival featured cinema from various Arab countries, presenting films from 16 different nations. Marlin Soliman, strategic planning director of HAFF, highlighted the inclusion of six feature films, ten short films and six student films.

Spanning five days, HAFF offered its audience a vibrant experience, including a red-carpet affair, panel discussions on filmmaking and diversity in Hollywood, and, of course, screenings of high-profile films.

The festival also saw several filmmakers singing the praises of Saudi Arabia’s expanding film industry.

L’Abidine, the writer and director of “To My Son,” said: “I’m thrilled to be back again with my second feature film ‘To My Son,’ a Saudi film… I think there is a great evolution of Saudi cinema that’s been happening in the last few years.”