Arab American Movie Producers/Directors
By: Arab America contributing writer / Carrie Stewart
We all have our favorite movies, but do you know who directed them? Better yet, do you know of any movie producers and directors in the U.S that have an Arab Heritage? There are actually some big ones you may not know of! This article will dive into 4 popular Arab American movie producers/directors.
1. Moustapha Akkad
Akkad was born in 1930 in Aleppo. He is of Syrian descent. When he came to the United States he studied film direction and production at UCLA. He also studied at USC.
As for his career, his first movie was Mohammad, Messenger of God. It was released as The Message in 1977 in the United States. Akkad was forced to make the film in Morocco because he faced resistance from Hollywood,. This movie is about the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through the lens of his uncle.
In 1978 he produced the movie he is most well known for, Halloween. He was involved in the first 8 Halloween Movies as the executive producer. These movies became very popular horror films.
In 1980 he directed Lion of the Desert. It was about the “real-life Bedouin leader Omar Mukhtar, fighting Benito Mussolini‘s Italian troops in Libya.” The movie is now critically acclaimed, but at first, it received negative publicity in the West because it was partially funded by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Akkad’s death was quite tragic. He and his daughter were killed in the 2005 Amman bombings – they were in a hotel lobby when the bomb went off.
2. Tony Shadyac
Tony Shadyac was raised by a Lebanese mother and a half-Irish half-Lebanese father. Shadyac also studied at UCLA and received a master’s degree in film. While in school he produced the critically acclaimed short film, Tom, Dick, and Harry. Shadyac briefly acted during the 1980s, he was in an episode of Magnum, P.I., and in the film Jocks.
Shadyac’s first major film was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This film featured Jim Carrey (who was up and coming at the time). Shadyac worked on several other films as well including The Nutty Professor movie series, Patch Adams (starring Robin Williams), Dragonfly (starring Kevin Costner), and Evan Almighty (starring Steve Carell). He also executive produced the TV series 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. Shadyac was also the “youngest-ever joke writer for comedian Bob Hope.”
3. Abe Kasbo
Abe Kasbo grew up in Aleppo, Syria. As a child, he was very interested in America and American culture. He came to the United States (particularly New Jersey) in 1980. He is now “CEO of Verasoni Worldwide, a marketing and public relations firm in Montclair, NJ.”
A very important film that Kasbo produced is “A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans.” It was the “first historical full-length documentary about Arab Americans produced in the United States.” The film took eight years to produce and was shot in 11 states. The film is very special because it shows “everyday Arab Americans over the span of American history.”
According to The Arab Daily News, “In his inaugural debut as producer and director, Abe Kasbo’s timely new film vividly paints a portrait of the Arab-American immigrant experience through the stories of people who came to the United States hoping to find the American dream, including Senator George Mitchell, actor Jamie Farr, Presidential candidate, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, General John Abizaid, Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, former White House reporter Helen Thomas, Indianapolis 500 legend Bobby Rahal, actor and founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Danny Thomas, Congressman Nick Rahall, and others.”
4. Rolla Shelbek
Rolla Shelbek is a Filmmaker, a Podcaster, and a Storyteller. She moved to the U.S after the Gulf War and is a Queer Arab Immigrant. She is from the UAE. Shelbek lives in Los Angeles and is known for having strong leading women in her stories.
She wrote and directed “Choke,” which is about a rising MMA fighter trying to hide that she is a Syrian refugee while living in her small American town. This stars Jessica Damouni. She also worked on the “internationally acclaimed feature film” “Three Veils,” which discusses homosexuality in the Muslim-American culture.
Shelbek even served on the board of directors at OUTFEST, “home to the largest LGBT International Film Festival in the world,” and the SAN FRANCISCO WOMEN’S FILM INSTITUTE, where she helped with initiatives regarding developing the new generation of filmmakers.
If you are interested, check out some movies by these very talented Arab American directors and producers!
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