Arab Films Nominated for the Academy Awards and More
By: Sara Tawfik/Arab America Contributing Writer
2021 has been an exciting year for film, especially in the Arab community. With films such as The Present by Palestinian-British director and filmmaker, Farah Nabulsi as well as Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin, being nominated for Academy Awards, the world is beginning to recognize and become more aware of Arab culture and Arab stories as a significant part of western society. Nabulsi’s breathtaking story is nominated for the Best Live Action Short Award, and Ben Hania’s incredibly raw and powerful film is being nominated for the International Feature Film of the Year within the Academy Awards. Both films have an incredible storylines and depict Arab identity and lives in an interesting way.
Oscar-Nominated Film: The Man Who Sold His Skin
Kaouther Ben Hania, a Tunisian director, grapples with the idea of the refugee crisis throughout the Western and Eastern world in what Time Magazine labels as an “ominous and sinister” film. This film opens up a dialogue on serious social and political issues surrounding specifically Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon along with Europe.
Ben Hania analyzes how people see refugees as a possible “lesser than” or a tool for exploitation, and psychologically examines the short term effects of taking advantage of someone’s misfortune.
The film’s demonstration of psychological issues along with extremely powerful scenes of what exploitation can look like for a refugee are what make this film worth the watch. The story is captured through the lens of a Syrian man named Sam Ali, who declares his love for his girlfriend, Abeer, who lives in Belgium. He goes through many obstacles to reach his girlfriend, and through this ‘sells his skin’ to an artist by allowing him to tattoo his back with the word “Visa” on it.
The story was loosely based on a real piece of artwork by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who conceptualized the idea of someone owning another human’s body or acquiring real estate on someone else’s body. It does an excellent job at analyzing the idea of freedom and how privilege plays a part in that. Ben Hania analyzes how people see refugees as a possible “lesser than” or a tool for exploitation, and psychologically examines the short term effects of taking advantage of someone’s misfortune.
Oscar-Nominated & BAFTA Award Winning Film: The Present
This incredible story, set in Palestine, about a man and his daughter will grip you with its powerful message on the hardships faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. The film is about a father and his daughter who go into town to find a gift for the girl’s mother. This task is made difficult due to the checkpoints that are seen throughout the film. The story is beautiful in that it is relatable to many who understand the difficulty and lack of freedom of movement many Palestinians face living within their own country.
“I dedicate this award to the people of Palestine,” Nabulsi said in her acceptance speech.
By connecting with her audience on a human level, Nabulsi shows the indignity and violence that Palestinians face at these checkpoints every day. Nabulsi has exceeded the expectations of many by bringing home a BAFTA award as well as a nomination for an Academy Award, and during her acceptance speech she said, “I dedicate this award to the people of Palestine.” The Present was co-written and edited by Palestinian filmmaker Hind Shoufani.
What Does This Mean for Future Arab Films?
The history behind Arab Films within the Academy Awards is an active one, ranging from films such as Youssef Chahine’s “Cairo Station” submitted for the Academy Awards in 1959, to Iran’s Asghar Farhadi winning Best Foreign Language film again with “The Salesman” in 2017. The world is definitely starting to notice the brilliant minds within Middle Eastern and Arab countries that have chosen to celebrate and bring awareness to the diverse stories that will continue to shape the Western world. With actors, such as Rami Malek, stepping into the spotlight as Arab actors and directors, such as Ben Hania & Nabulsi stepping forward to tell the dynamic (and sometimes tragic) stories of the Arab lifestyle, the Arab and Western world can collide.
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