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Finally ! A regional platform that will value independent local new content.

I am so proud of a project I was lucky to be called in on. Asli is a platform that will be free & friendly, where Arabic & regional content from independent creatives will be clickable to watch.

Comedy, adventure, travel, culture, music, film & podcasts, all regionally brewed, will be making its way to this digital platform that should become an immersive fun one stop shop.

Launching soon! Will keep you posted. For now – follow Asli Content on Instagram for more.

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Time, Space, Gravity & Gender

IMG_3954I am watching Genius (National Geographic) on iTunes. It tails a young Einstein in the years leading to his Nobel Prize. You would think the most startling revelation is that Einstein was a charming, carefree & funny young lad. Or, that I am finally understanding that the Theory of Relativity & the Time-Space Continuum are more than mere phrases uttered by dreamy Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) in Quantum Leap during the early 90’s.

But in fact, what I have found most startling is that the series is very much about male chauvinism & the exploitation of women. And I don’t mean it in a rhetorical or intellectual way; I mean it in the very basic, daily, heedless, surmising way.

{Spoiler Alert}

It turns out that not unlike the biographies of other great men, including, you know, Jesus & the Prophet Mohammad; the series is a shout-out & hat-tip to all the women who’s shoulders Einstein weighed on. It is his mother’s family who paid for his education, his coming-of-age frolics with a young teacher who helped him pass his university entrance exam; & his first love / colleague / only female classmate / later first wife, who contributed (intellectually if not also practically) to the articles that came to form the foundation of modern Physics.

Her name was Mileva Maric & why we don’t study her as a fallen hero of her time is mind boggling to me. She is an inspirational figure for women’s education as much as she is a cautionary tale for ‘early marriage’ – & more crassly – for unprotected sex! Seriously. If I was building the hypothetical curriculum for Sex Ed, I most certainly would reference the tragic story of Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein’s first child. While it was the cause of some trepidation that slightly swerved Einstein’s early career; it derailed her potential contribution to the study of physics and humanity in general, and had immense consequences on her life.

Sadly, here is where we arrive at current Arabic TV content. Genius transcends time & space, & brings us to the present day Arab region by way of its commentary on gender inequality in turn of the twentieth century Europe.

In the here and now, there are those of us who are lucky to be free & empowered Arab women. But this is normally either because we have been ‘allowed’ or ‘permitted’ by the powers that be, or, because recent sizeable sacrifices have been made for that freedom & empowerment to be gained. Probably the sacrifice was made by some woman be it you, your mother, grandmother or indeed sister. Sacrifices as token as taking the backlash of standing up to a parent, or as monumental as escaping brutality.

Now, there is some TV content (good, great, some quite bad) documenting tragedies & hardships of Arab women (Nelly Karim has made it her job to take on these roles & has been consequently bearing the brunt for it). But complex, aspirational TV with women in great supporting roles, let alone a leading ones, are really hard to come by on our TV screens. Women who pushed men to their success, women who made their own mark of success – these women’s story remaining untold is really a huge disservice to us. Women who inspire and wow us with their strength, courage & wit – where are they on our small screens?

Women like the heroines of May Masri’s film 3000 Nights (played by Maisa Abdel Hadi), of I am Nojoom Aged 10 & Divorced (by Khadija Al Salami), of Amr Salama’s Asmaa (played by Hend Sabri) of Mohammad Diab’s 678,  or Yousri Nasrallah’s Scheherazade Tell me a Story, or or or….the list of Arab film heroines is becoming quite extensive & wonderfully so but there is no transferral to dramatic serial storytelling. That is a real travesty since these aspirational role models – or reversibly – these cautionary tales, remain sights for the sore eyes of the few who access Arabic films, especially independent ones.  In the mean time, in the confines of watching at home, the majority are constrained to a binary question of femininity, womanhood in the Arab world: do you choose dolled up, way up or drabbed down, to the gutter down?

The lack of visibility & representation of solid, complex & real women’s tales, let alone inspiring ones, on the small screen is problematic on many levels; no less so because it begs the notions of access & class, & suggests the patriarchal lie that gender equality is a topic for the privileged.

The calamity is also that it perpetuates an absence & omission of truths that have occurred or are occurring to half of us in what is still the most mainstream of our media & the most common form of contemporary storytelling. We are being untold, unwritten, unseen. A truly dangerous thing: without being spoken of, written about or watched, we are absent from the narrative that is being consumed & regurgitated to form opinions, shapes ideas & bridges perspectives of young minds & old, men & women, across countries, sects and creeds.

Had I not been able to access or afford iTunes, had I not been an English speaker – I would not have watched Genius & found out that the most popular scientist in the world scored grades in Math & Physics second to a woman that he would later love and leave. Truly, that would have been a real pity because without it I’d have been stripped of the joy of better understanding Einstein, physics & even the Theory of Relativity!

Arabic content, Arabic Drama TV, Arabic TV, Uncategorized

Blaming Our Parents, Teachers & First Loves Is A Story That Never Gets Old – So Let’s Tell It Goddamit

In the collective narrative of humanity, there are few character story revelations & motivators verily insightful than what is known in the content world as ‘backstory’: What is known to the rest of us as ‘how my parents and upbringing is to blame for everything’.

For a culture that is fully invested in the family affair, it is sometimes jaw-dropping how extremely blazé parents can be about how their choice of words, actions & reactions can impact their children. Especially when synonymously coupled with how quickly they are to reminisce on their own young lives to explain or excuse their thoughts, feelings & actions.

It is also somewhat curious to understand why, then, when traditionally we are a people who are constantly referring & referencing origin, background & the past as well as seeing our childhood/family as direct narrative extenders to our present current selves; are we awful at anchoring the stories we produce on script & screen to rich characters with insightful backgrounds.

Arabic characters’ we watch on TV often feel like puppets mobilised to fulfilling the plot-lines. Or, worse – the story being told starts five minutes after what is potentially the most interesting thing about the character’s arc has already happened.

There isn’t enough Arabic content being made that purposefully focuses on & intentionally tells the story of characters & the unravelling of their emotional journeys in the present tense nor about the human condition as it unfolds under the constraints & opportunities of circumstance. Often ideas are expressed in the “…and then” storytelling. “This happened, then this happened, then this happened”. Compounding action after action without justifying the motivations of these set of actions nor leaving room for the emotional ramifications. And by omitting the causality & not being interested in the human impact, these narratives are deleting the “but then this happened, therefore this changed,” so essentially removing the opportunity for stories to have any loops, jeers & surprises and cancelling any chance for what we are watching to feel truly convincing.

In a region where today – in the grimy present – with millions of people, thousands of unique experiences, hundreds of realities & lifestyles, why are there only tens of stories being told & a handful of ways we are telling them. When we should be so desperate to share in our similarities & empathise with each other’s difference – why isn’t the backstory: the individual and collective “how it all started” family affairs,  breakdowns and breakups, tears and joys, love and loss, actually what our TV series overflowing with? Why aren’t we interested in the human condition or in each other?

In the mid-noughties (2000’s), Syrian TV drama did begin to tamper with these notions & genres & some cool things were transpiring on screen in the years leading up to the ‘the revolutions’ (2011). But since then it really appears like we have reverted back into super-safe, super-plot, storytelling. So, maybe this a reflection of our collective current psyche or mood. Maybe we don’t understand ourselves nor each other at all & don’t know what to say or where to start. IMG_2787

(Photograph of scene with Amal Arafeh from Ghizlan Fi Ghabat El Thi’ab)

How have we come this far removed and alienated from one another that we don’t know how to expose & reveal who we are, how we feel, & most importantly – why we do the things we do. Why we stay or leave, why we lie, cheat, or beg; why we devote or commit, why we are devout, why we are not, why we laugh, cry and die. It seems our scripted narrative is at least twice removed from our reality; utilising tools such high-drama and low-comedy to conceal the blunt and static stories extending from the characters that implement the plot rather than motivate it. The “this happened then this happened…” quickly leads up to a deflating nothing really happening at all.

So perhaps its time we do what good storytellers often do: start from the very beginning. Start from where it really matters. Start from wherever and whatever that story that tells us how the hell we wound up this way lays.

Something tells me there will be blaming of parents…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arabic TV, equality, raising girls, Uncategorized, women, Women on TV

This Revolution Should Be Televised: In Search of [the Right] Heroines Part 7,567

Much like life, TV viewing sometimes begs the question: If you have to choose – would you go for content that is authentic or idealistic?

In life, what to do when living authentically doesn’t comply with the very trendy notion of impersonating how you ideally want to be? My peers will know that this notion of “fake it till you make it”, or rather, “fake it till you become it”, has gotten me obsessed and slightly jarred!

I did feel better when my super smart friend clarified that, actually, the origination of the phrase comes from Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy who was more precisely talking about how our body language can kick our hormones into action and alter how we feel and how we appear. And I get that particular reference to how gesturing your body to act and feel confident can exude confidence and arrange future tackle tactics. I also can also understand how, another theory, that imagined happiness or success by way of daydreaming, for example, can earmark the right goals and align one’s stars.

But for me, dreaming of and embodying how one wants to be is one thing; but to get the inner self and her feisty sister, ego, to comply or catch up with the “fake” self one is emulating is quite another. I don’t know if I buy into the idea that I should smile my way through an emotional wreckage nor can I. But should I be challenging that default setting? According to what I have been reading – and as reaffirmed by a friend who is an avid listener to BBC’s Desert Island Discs – the most inspiring and successful women heroines we look up to – Swear. By. It.

For TV, I think the jury is still out on authentic vs idealistic. But for me, I find authentic drama realistic characterisations and their somewhat experimental and raw narrative arcs far more satisfying these days (aka since I got older and chronically sleepy) than the escapist alternative I was happy to go along with in the past (when I was young and perky). And it is for that reason and many others that I am finding it difficult to watch Arabic content even during its season d’etre – Ramadan.

As someone who has spent endless hours watching and catching up with Arabic series over the years (2001 – 2015), this pains me to my core. I am someone who irrationally, but willing stayed up till 3am binging on episode after episode of a series I started watching on TV on holiday at my mom’s; and wound up watching on my own on some obscure website while in bed laying between my two daughters, headphones jammed in my ears on super low volume, knowing that I have to be up on mom duty a mere three-hours later. Cut to a few years later – I now cruise through drama after drama on the myriad of Arabic channels, only to give up and sign into OSN Play, Netflix or iTunes (mine or that of a friend’s) to watch something American or British.  I do relate to some the female characters who, mind you, are not even written by or for my age group – more so than I do in Arabic ones that have been written supposedly, allegedly specifically for someone like me!

Yes, I am aware that according to blanket profiling, I am a late thirties mother of two who is the main purchaser of domestic goods badly advertised within these supposedly well positioned shows. But I can’t stretch my imagination or be forgiving anymore! It’s too much hard work for little gratification.The reason I don’t relate to the heroines or supporting female characters in Arabic drama  may appear to be about a grid of intercrossing variables; but truly it is about a set of two possible scenarios:

1- They are not written by women, nor by men who know the first thing about women (not in the slightest at ALL really).

Or, 2- they are written by women who are placing a lot of responsibility and burden on their shoulders to represent; to fit a lot of female related issues and questions into the little opportunity they have been bestowed. They resort to stuffing the mother-load into these female characters that end up being a very saturated version of anything relatively resembling the real. So we wind up with the bleak reality of slim pickings between flaccid idealism and pastiche realism.

The pendulum is drastically swinging between escapist idealism and slit-wrist versions of authenticity. Tick tock, tick tock. It really does feel like ticking time bomb sometimes and I hope it blows up soon and we can get back to the drawing boards and have a second change at this women in dramatic roles business. (An Article in Assafir last year make some interesting suggestions.) 

And of course there are exceptions by way of some Syrian drama a few years back (and NO! Not Bab el Hara, get over it already) and Egyptian drama since 2011. And, of course a lot of this has to do with the ills of drama writing in our region across the ball; and yes, maybe even men are struggling to find someone to look up to or relate to in Arabic series as well. But, it truly pains me that with all the raw talent that we have, with all the challenges and brilliantly inspiring journeys women in our part of the world often face – that I need the likes of HBO’s Girls or (slightly more age appropriate) Big Little Lies, NBC’s This Is Us, even Netflix’s House of Cards, to get my dose of what I’m going to call aspirational reality.

After all, isn’t drama meant to provide us with insight and give us relief, balancing the act of elevating us from our grubby life while reflecting some of it back at us? So I guess in the authentic vs. idealistic tug of war, I am saying what some (OK probably a lot of) frazzled female audiences like me are craving the aspirational variety: we are seeking the thrill of the intriguing and the cathartic.

Hopefully, just like in life, TV will soon catch on to the biting actuality that a mini revolution is going on where women are no longer waiting to be catered to; they are going ahead and forging platforms and content for themselves (and somewhat liberated men). I just can’t wait for us to start seeing our TV screens getting a makeover the way the screens of  our phones, laptops and movies are slowly but surely doing.

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Seeing is Believing: In Search of [The Right] Heroines Part II

Speaking of finding the right female voices that I would like my daughter exposed to, I have been thinking a lot about aspirational women and how often (or not) we, in the Arab region, are given the opportunity to truly see them, hear them and, more importantly, to relate to their experience and aspire to be like them.

This subject matter is maimed with explosive sub-topics but I am interested in a few of them in particular.

  1. The ah-but-she-is-also-honourable manhole: One of the things that I find truly excruciating is in any formula against which a women is being measured, it feels like intrinsically, the biggest value in any such equations will be given to being ‘honourable’ (can insert varying but equally loaded synonyms here). While I understand the cultural context and recognise the virtue of the adjective, I feel that we are so set back in the female representation, let alone female equality agenda, that really – there are far more important adjectives that need to underpin our definition of the common heroines RIGHT NOW. I think that in a world with a word count, if we had to really pick our words, there are far more important and urgent ones to get in there. For me, the women I am looking for need to be loaded with the big guns to breast-stroke against the [backwater] tide of our contradictory social, economic and cultural norms. HONESTY, BRAVERY (see Reshma  Saujani’s Ted Talk), COMPASSION, WISDOM, ACCEPTANCE, HARD WORK and being an all round bad-ass is what we need to champion the cause of half of our communities. If a woman has the ovaries to stand up for what she believes and churn at it even if it doesn’t look like something familiar to most, then really; also being honourable is the over-the-top icing on the cake. Also, the problem is not so much in honourability itself, but in the way that we teach it to girls from a young age. It starts with be nice and be polite. And don’t get me wrong, I would love for both my daughters to grow up nice and polite, but seriously – these characteristics are nowhere in the Top Ten list of aspirations I have in mind to best prepare them to kick ass or zen out.
  2. The exhausting extinction of being casual/cool: Ok, granted, this may be arising from my slightly lazy sense of style and my diminishing ability to wear heals or keep the lipstick from running outside the almost inexistent border of my lip (I know, yes, I have discovered and now use the white wax lip-liner  thing to contain it all in, thank you). But really, truly, most women in the world, but more so – in our part of the world – who are accomplished, inspiring, aw-inducing, are often presented (not necessarily in reality) as a physical manifestation of a deliberate and big effort to look a certain way and exude a certain attitude. It’s about the ideas and values being projected onto these women and then projected by them via the various forms of traditional and social media. I know what image is coming to mind, the very groomed, made-up, power-suited, high-healed, I work out at 4.25am to fit everything in (figuratively and literally). And yes, I am talking about that typecast; but I am also talking about the other typecasts. What I call The Artiste with Attitude type and the Yoga All Damn Day typecast too. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising those actual women (how could I, I still wear jeans EVERYDAY and not in the cool but certainly in the casual ways of the 90s –  evidenced in pic below) and I am not hating on any of my fellow females. BUT, I am saying that what our phones, televisions, webpages and social functions platform are often these three archetypes and non of them are easily attainable without A LOT of effort – way too much for most (and lets face it, some serious doe as well). And so, for me, the issue lies in the notions of relatablity and attainability (Emma Watson said it well). If a young carefree girl is looking for her heroines, be it in the business world (of which, The National did a great story about one such heroine – Fida Taher), or in the arts or in sports, they should find images that are approachable, affordable, practical (yes PRACTICAL) and HONEST. It’s really tiresome being human on most days, let alone being a female, not to mention a lady (refer back to point 1 above); cant the media play a role in granting us access to cool women who can inspire us to be our regular selves? Is there no room for alternatives, true alternatives, for the looks that the commercial fashion and beauty worlds are trying to peg on us as walking, free branding mannequins?  (I will leave the half assed anti-capitalist banter for another time.)
  3. Oh Boy: I am giving it away right from the get-go. I am talking about the boys, THE BOYS, the men, the other half of the population. For one thing where are the fireworks and party hats celebrating the males who are championing women, the “equalists”, dare I say feminist men who are pioneering women’s rights / equality / empowerment, call it what you like, in the work place, in the educational space, in the home? More importantly, when we talk about female empowerment, why are we not including or even targeting boys and men? I am dreaming up a variety of scenarios as soft as reading books to boys with strong female characters, mothers having a Take Your Son To Work Day (and yes I am suggesting that include stay at home moms and having their sons shadow their juggling act). I am also imaging more hard-core scenarios; including sitting our sons down and telling them what a girl wears or how she acts never warrants them the right to grab her, and no I don’t mean it in the ’12 things to raise a respectful son’ BuzzFeed way, I mean it in seriously, repetitive, led-by-example, hand-holding, consequential, way of life kinda way. Not to mention things like expanding corporate training to ‘harassment in the work place’. But, my favourite in the short term is enforcing the March 8th International Women’s Day  ‘A Day Without a Woman ‘. Imagine wearing red and refraining (along with the rest of the females in your family or circle) from working or doing anything in any capacity and disappearing long enough for your contribution to the home and the workplace and to the economy to be palpable. SCARY STUFF, right? Here how it would look in America, so imagine how much more severe it would look in the MIDDLE EAST?! Anyway, the point is oh boy do we need our boys to join hands with us! In the end, it’s all about the Ying and the Yang and the fact that we are all but part o f the whole so what is the use in keeping female heroism between us girls! It can feel at times like preaching to the converted, and we really need to advance this centuries-old conversation. Gloria Steinem keeps us real with how she advises us not to burn out in the fight for equality.

I leave you with one of the grandmothers of Arab feminism, Nawal El Saadawi and her prolific and horrifyingly still distinctly accurate take on the struggle of our gender in our part of the world. Oh, and a picture of my Jeans.

JeansLegs

equality, raising girls, Uncategorized, women

In search of [the right] heroines part 1.

I drive my daughter to school everyday. She is four and daily we sing along to the radio as she begins to ask me about the lyrics. “Why is this person ‘feeling complicated‘ mama? She is saying she ‘realises she is not alone’, that’s great! I will remember I am not alone now when I am sleeping in my room.” This cracks me up but I am also HORRIFIED.

It dawns on me that she is now actually, actively, listening to these random, run of the mill pop songs that I often just bop to, but never pay attention to the lyrics. So now I am paying attention. I am in full force anxiety.

How are these words and sentences about booty, sex and random crap building her conception of the world, of being female, of relationships? DEAR GOD! I love classical music, I love jazz, should I be putting those things on instead? Should we solely listen to feminist podcasts, or, do what we did in my childhood in Amman during the 80’s and just listen to Radio Monte Carlo and BBC Arabic?!

To be fair she loves Fairuz’s Tik-Tik-Tik Em Sleiman and ReMi Bandali’s Baba but seriously I cant keep her on this retro PC path too long because these songs from my childhood are starting to drive me absolutely CRAZY. Thank God for her father inducing an obsession with Alessia Cara’s Scars to Your Beautiful to replace my daughter’s renditions of Sexual by Neiked  (I know, I know the puns are in the names).

Right it’s Queen, The Beatles and Bela Bartok on repeat until I figure out a list of strong, female voices I want her to emulate.