Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’

Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives. (Supplied)
Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’

Film training for young Arab women garners praise, but parity remains ‘a challenge’
  • Netflix and Arab Fund for Arts and Culture organized program that concluded with visit to production facility in Madrid
  • 37 women participated in project that began November last year

DUBAI: The inaugural film industry training program launched by Netflix for young Arab women has garnered praise from its participants, but organizers said gender parity remains a major challenge.

In collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the “Women in Film: Introduction to the Creative Process” initiative concluded with a visit earlier this month to Netflix’s production hub in Tres Cantos, Madrid, following a series of workshops across the Middle East.

“I never thought I would ever be able to see something like this or stand in the same place as some of my most favorite TV shows on Netflix,” said Lama Al-Sharhan, a participant from Saudi Arabia, who was among 37 women who participated.

“It was surreal, and the structure was carefully planned to the smallest detail to make it easy to produce multiple shows as efficiently as possible,” she told Arab News.

While filmmakers from around the world share the same passion for the industry, Arab filmmakers “lack knowledge on how to produce and create series that capture worldwide audiences’ attention” the way Netflix does, she added.

“We require these small tips and tricks that we might not be aware of since this is still a growing industry in the Arab world while in Europe, it’s more established,” said Al-Sharhan.

Rima Mismar, AFAC’s executive director, spoke to Arab News about the challenges facing female filmmakers and crew in the Arab world.

She said there was a scarcity of funding for arts and culture in general across the Arab region, in addition to the lack of proper infrastructure for production, distribution, and dissemination of film works. This was “a challenge that women filmmakers face even more than their male counterparts.”

Moreover, there are “inequities in terms of salaries, exposure, and capacity-building opportunities” for women, she added.

Although the last decade saw the emergence of more women directors and producers in the Arab world as well as female-centric efforts by global platforms, Mismar warned: “One should not confuse progress and improvement with equity and justice.”

“The path is still very long and women across the Arab region still face social and familial pressures regarding their choices of artistic careers,” she added.

Mismar highlighted that women-centric initiatives should “not be solely based on the fact that they are women, but rather to value women filmmakers for their unique perspectives, emotional depth, worldview, and their capability to push the boundaries of our imagination through stories and experiences that are not focused only on women characters.”

She said AFAC was working toward “shifting the paradigm through equally including women voices in our processes, thinking, brainstorming, and selection of film projects to receive support.

She added that the organization was “keen on intergenerational transmission of knowledge, cross-sectoral learning, and the development of more critical discourses around the dynamics of production in film and other art forms in the region.”

Mismar said the initiative with Netflix “was very much about creating a safe environment for young women filmmakers to learn, share and discuss and to be inspired by other women in the field as well as learn from other fields like feminist writings.”

The program began in November with three-day workshops held in Dubai, Jeddah and Cairo, offering participants mentorship from established female directors in various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting.

“As we place representation and diversity at the heart of what we do, partnering with like-minded organizations like AFAC strengthens our shared aim to amplify the voices of Arab creators,” said Netflix’s content director for Turkiye, the Middle East and Africa, Nuha El-Tayeb.

“We want to serve as a meaningful part of the creative communities in the Arab world, and partnerships, like the one with AFAC, help provide creators with the tools they need to tell the best version of their stories,” she told Arab News.
 

Participants visited Netflix’s content hub during the final leg of the trip, expanding their network through engagements with industry professionals and talks with prominent organizations and government bodies.

The participants also had the opportunity to have mentoring sessions with producer Emma Lustres (“Cell 211,” “Retribution”), and showrunner Gema R. Neira (“Nacho,” “High Seas,” “Farina”).

This is not Netflix’s first collaboration with AFAC.

In 2021, the two organizations supported 240 freelancers in the film and television sector across 12 countries in the Arab region under the AFAC-Netflix Hardship Fund.

In 2022, Netflix partnered with AFAC to provide a one-time grant of $250,000 to women producers and directors in the Arab world through the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives.

The Women in Film program is part of Netflix’s “ongoing effort to upskill more women behind the camera and give new voices the opportunity to break through in the industry,” said El-Tayeb.

“The goal of this program is to introduce the creative filmmaking process and the different roles women can play behind the camera to emerging women filmmakers in the region,” she added.

Netflix will continue to invest in amplifying and celebrating more women’s voices through our content, funding and upskilling initiatives as part of our work in the region, said El-Tayeb.


Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
Updated 20 April 2024
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Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition
  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  


Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
Updated 20 April 2024
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Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say
  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.


Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
Updated 20 April 2024
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Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine
  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
Updated 20 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system
  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”