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The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History

posted on: Sep 22, 2020

The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History
“Film” by ▲shutterbug, is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
By: Mohamed Nada/Arab America Contributing Writer

All the best movies ever produced come out of Hollywood, but did you know that over 90 percent of directors/filmmakers are men? In 2017, women only made up 18 percent of directors, writers, and producers, according to a statistic on Women and Hollywood.

Given this low number, where do most of these women thrive?

A video from TRT World explains how women in Arab countries have a much higher percentage of being directors, coming in at 26 percent. Although this is only an 8 percent difference, it is still a bigger percentage than the women striving for greatness in Hollywood.

According to Nick Vivarelli in his Variety article on “More Arab Women Directors Finding Their Voices Through Film“, Arabic independent films are twice as likely to be directed by a woman.

In fact, 26% of independent film directors in the region are female, “much more than directors of studio films in the West,” it notes.

This is great news to hear.

Annemarie Jacir Speaks Out on Female Filmmakers

The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History
Source for Picture: KPBS

Annemarie Jacir is a director/producer from Palestine known for works such as: Salt of This Sea (2008), When I Saw You (2012) and Like Twenty Impossibles (2003) according to IMDB.

In addition, she has been credited as director for 10 films, as a writer for 11, producer for 11, and many more. Jacir continues to go above and beyond her roles as film writer and director, thus promoting the presence of women in the filming industry.

From the Arts & Culture, the article titled, “Why a large proportion of the Arab world’s best filmmakers are women“:

“There is this thing that you are not successful because you are a woman because of all the obstacles on the one hand, and then on the other that you are successful because you are a woman,” Jacir said. “It’s never about the fact that we are just filmmakers trying to make work and we should be judged on our work only.”

Jacir has produced countless movies and films. Her recent on Wajib – The Wedding Invitation which came out in 2017, is about the following:

In this interview, she explains what the meaning of Wajib means by saying that, “… it is like your social duty, doing things that you’re suspected to do in your community or socially…” and in this case, her example is of how when you have a wedding, instead of sending out invitations to people, you as a person must go door to door and almost give people your verbal invitation to the wedding rather than have it written down on a card.

Other Notable Arab Female Filmmakers:

Let’s take a look at other Arab female filmmakers and their accomplishments in the industry:

Cherien Dabis

The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History
Source for Photo: Twitter

Cherian Dabis is a Palestinian-Jordanian director, well-known for her movies such as: Amreeka (2009), Empire (2015) and May in the Summer (2013).  She often reveals the struggles of being a woman who is a filmmaker. Megan C. Hill from Marie Claire, gains insight on Dabis’ views on the issue:

“It is challenging, opening those doors. Making the leap from an independent international filmmaker to a commercial one is hard enough, but add female filmmaker to that, and then add Arab female filmmaker, and it becomes infinitely more challenging.”

Dabis articulates how the position of director or filmmaker is hard enough, but when you add female and Arab in front of the title, the challenge increases.

Haifaa Al Mansour

The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History

Mansour is seen as a great filmmaker as stated by Arab, from Scoop Empire:

“The Saudi filmmaker is best known for being the Kingdom’s first female filmmaker and her 2012 production, Wadjda. Her award-winning feature film has garnered massive global attention as it was named a winner in several reputable film festivals as Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival.”

Jehane Noujaim

The Best Arab Women Filmmakers in Modern History

Jehane Marie is an Egyptian-based director taking her imagination to another level when it comes to her films.

Sophia White, from Culture Trip mentions how:

“…Noujaim adopts the cinéma vérité in her films, allowing the viewer to take a more ‘truthful’ look at the individual subjects. Unlike other popular documentary makers, including Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, Noujaim removes the problem of featuring herself ‘in the film’”

Nadine Labaki

Nadine Labaki is a Lebanese actress/director, and is notable for her recent work Capernaum, which won the the jury vote at the 2018 Cannas Festival, according to The Guardian.

Rachel Cooke, from The Guardian, got an interview with Labaki, and asked about the difficulties of being a female director in Lebanon. Labaki had this to say:

“I’ve never felt that. It’s very difficult to make a film anyway in Lebanon: there’s no film industry. Perhaps that’s part of it. We’re doing it from scratch. We’re not entering a man’s world. It’s a clean page. In fact, there are more women than men working in film in Lebanon.”

The Future of Filmmaking

Source for Photo: Sisters in Cinema

So what is the next step for these leaders in the filming industry?  They all have a similar goal: to produce the best film they have ever made. These types of stories can be told by anyone who has the passion in doing so, making it a competitive arena.

Women seek to show people what they are made of, by either becoming a director or even writing a script for something that would one day be an Oscar-nominee. Since movies are meant to tell a story, it should not matter who is working behind the camera. As long as there is passion and dedication, anything can be done.

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