Looking at the Middle East through a Camera Lens
Saudi Arabia gives its citizens the opportunity to go back to movie theaters
War. The Middle East. It’s melancholic that when we hear either of these, we refer to the other. Negative images conquer American media, and subtly implant these visualizations into our heads. Children dying in Syria. Cities in rubble. Refugees seeking asylum.
There is more to these nations than bloodshed.
The Middle East provides iconic forms of art: from their architecture, literature, and technology to film. However, it’s unfortunate to witness creative outlets get overtaken by the violence that plagues these beautiful countries. It’s important to understand the actuality of war, but also to educate on the positivity that is concealed behind it. There needs to be another communication structure that looks past brutality and discloses truth.
Saudi Arabia came to this realization earlier this March.
In the 1980s, the Saudi Arabian government placed a ban on movie theaters. Similar to many issues that arise, this law was placed as a means to quell religious feuds (conservatives in Saudi Arabia proclaimed film to be “un-Islamic”). By prohibiting theaters, the government constrained the film industry and artistic expression.
After 35 long years, it has finally been lifted.
With aspirations to develop tourism, the country has found incentive to diverge from its reliance on oil production.
This revocation is appealing to both the residents of Saudi Arabia, as well as prospective business partners. Instead of going to Dubai for entertainment, the country’s residents will sit in theaters. Therefore, tourism will increase. Even foreign film studios will want to produce and distribute their movies in Saudi Arabia to expand their viewership.
Around 350 movie theaters are prompted to open in the country by 2030, which will drastically increase the country’s recreational appeal. As if that’s not enough, Saudi Arabia is investing $64 million to market films, as well as to build an “Entertainment City” south of Riyadh.
Is this the rise of a new Hollywood? It seems like it.
A movie that celebrates diversity, Black Panther is now setting milestones outside of box office records in America.
It’s been announced that it will be the first film released in Saudi Arabia since the ban. Projecting in a new AMC theater, the movie will premiere in the country on April 18th, during a festival and gala in Riyadh. This isn’t just a big step for the country’s entertainment industry, but an honor for the Marvel film as well. The film has shown a greater cultural importance than the expansion and diversification of the Hollywood bubble.
Middle Eastern cinema is overlooked even though it provides some of the most powerful films in current day. Movies like A Separation, Persepolis, and Waltz with Bashir have not gotten the international attention that they deserve. Yes, Asghar Farhadi received an Academy Award for A Separation, but if you ask the majority of the American population if they’ve seen it (or heard of it)– the answer will be no.
These movies deal with conflicts outside of the Western dominion. Emotions and topics that people rather ignore than resolve, especially when it comes to war, are taboo in Hollywood. It’s rare for a popular movie to be realistic instead of a spectacle. Let’s face it, many of these favored films promote ignorance and escapism. Their constant utilization of the suspension of disbelief oversimplifies complex issues, including warfare.
Movies from the Middle East are emotionally invigorating because of their emphasis on social questions. Distress, loss, pain, and fear are all things that are taken for granted and absent in popular blockbusters.
These authentic representations of confusion and chaos present war as something real. Not something that emits heroism or glory.
It’s important to note that their realism gives a glimpse into a culture beyond the view of the media. Middle Eastern films rely on compelling stories that highlight events, which is why their messages are so powerful. With the rise of films in Saudi Arabia, politically aware directors will display their visions in a creative way. Culture will be promoted, and advocation for change and human rights will be strengthened.
Recently, I was able to contact Rayka Zehtabchi, a rising talent in the film industry. An Iranian-American director, Zehtabchi works to bring forth factual stories about people through a creative avenue. Her most recent success is the award-winning short, Madaran. The film reflects upon the Iranian justice system as a mother must decide the fate of her son’s murderer.
Furthermore, Zehtabchi has just finished working on a documentary filmed in India titled Period. End of Sentence. The film focuses on women’s effort to improve feminine hygiene in the nation by producing menstrual pads at an affordable cost. Zehtabchi doesn’t just stop there though. Her and her team are also the founders of a nonprofit organization called “The Pad Project,” which in the words of the director: “Hopes to educate women about menstrual hygiene, and raise money for pad machines to be installed in rural areas around the globe.”
Artists like Zehtabchi are the ones who demonstrate the importance of film as a format of communication. These political movies uncloak themes that are lightly touched in Hollywood to inform and educate audiences. Movies will inspire people to be open-minded and comprehend cultural issues that are otherwise disregarded or misunderstood.
The power of film as a medium to distribute sympathetic elements is crucial to both the development of the filmmaking business and countries. Saudi Arabia is just the first of these countries to prioritize this, but others will follow. Israel and Iran are already cranking out more and more movies each year.
Although it will bring a lot of economic prowess to these nations, their most notable success will overcome money.
With more films being exhibited and produced in the Middle East, a new cinematic perspective will be assembled. A point-of-view that will eliminate the negative undertone of the Middle East, and implement a new, illuminating glance at its culture and people.
You can read more at Forbes.