CANNES: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival and Vanity Fair on Thursday hosted a “women’s stories gala after party” during the Cannes Film Festival to celebrate female talent in the region.
The star-studded event was attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Katie Holmes, Maiwenn, The Weeknd, Gaspar Noe, Storm Reid, Tobey Maguire, Gurinder Chadha, Fan Bingbing, Freida Pinto, Simone Marchetti, Eva Herzigova, Naomi Campbell and more.
The event, held at the famed Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, honored six stars from the region: Saudi actresses Mila Al-Zahrani and Fatima Al-Banawi, Lebanese actress Razane Jammal, Indian star Sarah Ali Khan, Egyptian-Montenegrin actress and model Tara Emad and Nigerian filmmaker Jade Osiberu.
In an interview with Arab News, Emad said: “I am very proud of myself, of each and every women here that is an honoree. I am proud of our industry, of Egypt (and) of the Arab world. I am glad to be able to represent Egypt and the Arab word in general.
“I am happy to be able to see the representation that I always sought to see as a young girl,” she said. “I hope that the six of us can be that representation to all the girls and all the women in the Arab region that seek to see themselves in the spotlight in any career that they choose.”
Khan believes it was a “privilege” to be part of the event. “I think if I had to identify myself in three words it would probably be: Indian, woman (and) actor. And I am here to celebrate all three today,” she said.
To Al-Banawi, moments like these are no longer a surprise.
“I reached to a point where I am really not surprised because Saudi Arabia is trying to prove that we are creating stories that are inspiring, magical and that push for change and development,” she said. “I am very happy that we are here in Cannes Film Festival, celebrating each other and celebrating with each other.
“I feel like the narrative we represented in the light that was always on us was a very specific one and I don’t think women were part of it. I think it was written by others,” she said. “Today, I am celebrating women that are writing, that are creating and challenging and honoring themselves and other fellow women.
“I think it takes so much courage to tell one story, let alone if there was so many stories that were shaping you in a specific discourse or a specific channel or a specific light. It takes more courage to unleash, to unfold new possibilities and new opportunities. I always remind myself to be OK with taking up space, with speaking my opinion, with addressing what I feel could be wrong or should be changed,” Al-Banawi said.
Jammal said that she never differentiated between a man and a woman.
“Maybe because I lived in a little bubble because I was raised by a man that empowered me and told me that there was no difference between me and my brother. So maybe I never grew up feeling that being a woman is a challenge. If anything, I felt like it was a superpower,” she said.
But when she joined the workforce, she realized that women faced challenges.
“I am learning now as I am more exposed to a wider audience, and depending on their reactions I can learn about them more,” she said. “As a woman, I am really happy to be representing a person who chased her dreams, who is self-made, who is independent, and I am just trying to do my best and I am just really happy that the best is just working for me right now.”
Portugese model Sara Sampaio, who also attended, said that being part of the women’s stories gala was “so special.”
“Women are amazing, and for the longest time we didn’t have stories told by our point of views. It’s very important,” she said.
Mohammed Al-Turki, CEO of the Red Sea Film Festival, told Arab News: “We are very happy to be celebrating women. We are very proud that we can share stories from our region. Today, we are highlighting six females from our region: two from Saudi — Mila Zahran and Fatima Al-Banawi — from Egypt Tara Emad, from Lebanon Razane Jammal, from Nigeria Jade and from India Sara Ali Khan.
“It is quite an interesting mix and for us to be able to showcase these talents to the world, to be in a room tonight with the likes of Katie Holmes and more, is a big incredible moment for us,” he said.
“I think the dream has come true. I never thought a Saudi co-production would open Cannes with a female director of Algerian descent,” he said. “So it is an indicator that we are going. And if this is just three years of Red Sea, I think we should just fasten our seatbelt and go for a ride because we are going to see incredible things moving forward.”
This year, Cannes Film Festival opened with the screening of Johnny Depp’s “Jeanne du Barry,” which was backed by the Red Sea International Film Festival.