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)
Short Url
Updated 29 February 2024

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.

Dubai-based Telegram platform to hit 1 bln users within year, founder says

Updated 17 April 2024

Dubai-based Telegram platform to hit 1 bln users within year, founder says

  • Goal is to remain neutral and not a “player in geopolitics,” Pavel Durov said in interview

LONDON: The Telegram messaging app, one of the most popular social media platforms in Ukraine and Russia, will likely cross 1 billion active monthly users within a year, its founder said in remarks published on Tuesday.
In a rare interview, Pavel Durov told US journalist Tucker Carlson that the Dubai-based free cloud-based app that allows users to send and receive messages, calls and other files, is spreading like a “forest fire.”
“We’ll probably cross 1 billion monthly active users within a year now,” Durov, who fully owns Telegram, told Tucker, according to the video interview posted on Tucker’s account on the X social media platform.
The goal of the app, which has now 900 million active users, is to remain a “neutral platform” and not a “player in geopolitics,” Durov said. The Russia-born entrepreneur said he had fled Russia in 2014 citing government interference in a company he founded.
One of Telegram’s main rivals, Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp, has more than 2 billion monthly active users. The Financial Times reported in March that Telegram would likely aim for a US listing once the company had reached profitability.
After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Telegram has become an instrumental tool for both governments and a go-to place for posting and accessing unfiltered information about the war.
Almost all major media, government entities and public figures in both Russia and Ukraine operate content channels on Telegram.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky posts his daily video addresses on the app, while his armed forces warn of air raids and document battlefield developments. The Kremlin announces President Vladimir Putin’s activities on Telegram, while Russia’s opposition rallies for support.
But the app, critics said, has also become a tool of misinformation and manipulation. A bill submitted to the Ukrainian parliament in March looks at stricter regulation of Telegram and other social networks.
The Kremlin told Durov to be more attentive after the messaging application was allegedly used to help recruit the gunmen who attacked a concert hall outside Moscow in March.

TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East

Updated 16 April 2024

TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East

  • The awards cover six categories designed to recognize different aspects of campaigns
  • The winners will be announced during a ceremony in November

DUBAI: Short-form video app TikTok has launched an inaugural awards program to recognize and honor the best advertising campaigns on the platform in the Middle East, Turkey, South Africa and Pakistan, based on their creativity and performance.

“We have seen how creative talents from different backgrounds leverage digital platforms such as TikTok to push creative boundaries and set new benchmarks for advertising,” said Shadi Kandil, the company’s general manager of global business solutions in the Middle East, Turkey, Africa, Central and South Asia.

“This is exactly why it is important to celebrate the role brands and agencies play in promoting this dynamism. Through the TikTok Ad Awards, we aim to not only recognize their innovative efforts but also amplify the unique cultural narratives of communities within this region.”

Similar TikTok awards programs are already established in other markets but this year marks the first time they have been open to advertisers in the four listed territories. They cover six categories designed to recognize different aspects of ad campaigns.

“It’s the Creative for Me” celebrates campaigns with strong ideas and strategies specifically designed for the platform, while “Bougie on a Budget” honors those crafted on modest budgets that combine paid and organic content.

“The Trendsetter” category aims to recognize brands and agencies that harness the platform’s advertising products in innovative and effective ways.

Music and audio effects, and the influencers who operate in related spaces, are pivotal for TikTok. With that in mind, the “Sound On Please!” category will reward campaigns in which sound is a key element.

“Community Core” is for advertisers that leverage the talent of TikTok creators, while the audience at the awards ceremony in November will vote on the finalists in all the categories to choose a “People’s Choice” winner.

The TikTok Ad Awards are now open to submissions from brands and agencies in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa and Pakistan. The deadline is Sept. 6.

BBC urges UN experts to condemn Iran’s ‘harassment’ of its journalists

Updated 16 April 2024

BBC urges UN experts to condemn Iran’s ‘harassment’ of its journalists

  • Tehran has convicted some of the broadcater’s Persian journalist of “propaganda” against the state

LONDON: The BBC on Tuesday urged United Nations experts to condemn the “ongoing targeting and harassment” of some of its Persian language journalists after Tehran convicted some for “propaganda” against the state.
According to the broadcaster, documents published in February by a hacking group appear to reveal that a number of current and former BBC News Persian journalists were convicted in absentia by an Iranian court in February 2022 for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
A complaint was submitted by lawyers on behalf of the BBC to five special rapporteurs, it said in a statement.
The rapporteurs are independent experts in areas such freedom of expression and human rights and summary or arbitrary executions, who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it.
“Recent developments have amplified the severe situation facing our BBC News Persian staff on a daily basis. They are being penalized for their journalism and professionalism,” said BBC World Service director Liliane Landor.
“We are urging UN experts to robustly condemn the Iranian authorities’ harassment and to hold the regime to account,” she added.
Lawyers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jennifer Robinson, who are acting for the BBC, accused Iran of abusing “national security and counter-terrorism laws against the BBC.”
They said “convictions in absentia for BBC News Persian journalists for ‘propaganda’ against the state for their independent reporting on Iran are designed to intimidate and silence the BBC’s journalism about Iran.”
“We call on the UN to denounce these unlawful actions in the strongest possible terms,” the pair added.
The BBC said the “targeting and intimidation” of staff had “escalated dramatically” since September 2022 following mass protests in Iran.
The appeal follows an earlier joint statement by four UN experts in 2020 in which they voiced their “alarm” at the treatment of BBC journalists and their families.
Last month, Pouria Zeraati, a UK-based presenter for Persian-language Iran International, sustained injuries to his leg after being stabbed by two assailants outside his London home.
Counter terrorism detectives are probing the assault and say his attackers went straight to Heathrow airport and left the country within hours.
A 2024 survey of BBC News Persian staff found half of the respondents said they had received online threats or been harassed online for working for the BBC.

Stabbed Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati said ‘feeling much better but recovery takes time’

Updated 16 April 2024

Stabbed Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati said ‘feeling much better but recovery takes time’

  • Iran International presenter talked to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday about the attack outside his home

LONDON: Stabbed Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati said Tuesday he was “feeling much better” but he is still far from fully recovering.

The Iran International presenter spoke to BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program about the attack and the toll it has taken on his life.

“I’m feeling much better physically, but as you know, mental recovery takes time,” Zeraati said, adding that “the show must go on”.

The journalist was attacked late last month outside his home in south London. He was stabbed by three men and hospitalized with injuries to his leg.

Recalling the moment of the assault, Zeraati told BBC Radio 4 that he was going to his car to head to the studio when a “suspicious” looking man approached him and asked for some change.

“He pretended to be asking for change, as I was saying, ‘excuse me I don’t have any change,’ and I was going to unlock the door, the second man approached,” he said.

“They grabbed me from the front, very strong, I couldn’t move my hands” before one of the attackers stabbed him in the leg.

The pair immediately fled in a car that was waiting to drive them to Heathrow Airport.

“I just noticed all my belongings are with me, including my mobile phones, my watch, my AirPods, my wallet with cash in it, so the moment I just saw everything is with me, I noticed this is regarding my job, because it wasn’t a robbery,” he told “Today.”

He was taken to the hospital shortly after and later discharged. He is currently staying in a safe place under police supervision.

The Metropolitan Police said the suspects had left the UK but are still investigating the reason behind the attack.

Staff of Iran International have previously been targeted by threats linked to the Iranian regime, and the dissident broadcast had been listed as a terrorist organization in Iran for its coverage of Iran’s 2022 uprising.

Iran’s charge d’affaires in the UK, which serves as the head of its diplomatic mission, has denied any link between the Iranian regime and the attack on Zeraati.

The journalist returned to work earlier this month as a way to “send the message back”.

“I’m here, the show is going on, and my audience is still watching this show,” Zeraati said.

Meta ‘temporarily’ closes Threads network in Turkiye

Updated 15 April 2024

Meta ‘temporarily’ closes Threads network in Turkiye

  • Decision was taken to comply with injunction prohibiting data sharing with Instagram
  • Ruling do not imlact Meta’s other services like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp

ISTANBUL: Facebook owner Meta said Monday it would “temporarily” shut down its Threads short-messaging service in Turkiye after an order from Ankara’s competition watchdog over data-sharing.
The interim ruling from the Turkish Competition Authority (TCA) has “no impact” for Meta’s other services like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in Turkiye, the company said in a statement posted to its website.
“We disagree with the interim order, we believe we are in compliance with all Turkish legal requirements, and we will appeal,” Meta said — although it had “no choice but to temporarily shut down Threads” in Turkiye.
Meta launched Threads last year as a competitor to X (formerly Twitter), with boss Mark Zuckerberg saying in February the service had 130 million monthly users worldwide.
It was available in Turkiye from the start, while European Union users had to wait months for Meta to come up with a version adapted to strict data protection and competition laws.
In its March finding, the TCA had said Meta’s combination of user data from Instagram with people’s Threads profiles “will lead to irreparable harms.”
Given its vast user base, data collection and financial resources, “Meta’s practices in the market constitute a barrier to entry” for prospective competitors, the authority added.
Meta said it would allow existing Threads users to delete or deactivate their profiles ahead of the April 29 cut-off, with a chance of reactivating them should the ruling be overturned.