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Golden Globes: Are Arab filmmakers up to the challenge?

The 75th annual Golden Globes ceremony kicked off January 7, 2018 with stars wearing all black for the first time, in honor of the victims of sexual misconduct, which has plagued the industry in the US.

The top award went to Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress in a Limited Series for her role in “Big Little Lies.”

BBC reported that the big film winner of the night was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which took home four awards.

Where did Arab filmmakers or actors stand in the Golden Globes this year?

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No nominations in 2018

According to Vogue, a fashion and culture magazine, ten Arabic language films were submitted for consideration at this year’s Golden Globes, yet none of them received a nomination. However, many Arab actors were nominated in the past.

Scoop Empire, an online hub for Middle East news, names 6 Arabs who made it big in Golden Globes over the past years.

Sam Esmail, a screenwriter, film and television director and producer, won the Golden Globe for Mr. Robot in 2016.

Omar El Sherif won two Golden Globe awards in 1963 and 1966 for best actor and best support actor.

Jerry Seinfeld, who comes from a Syrian descent, won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a television series in 1994.

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Teri Hatcher, who comes from a Syrian descent, won this award in 2005 for desperate housewives.

Tony Shalhoub, a middle easterner, won in 2003 the Golden Globe award for best actor in a TV series, Monk.

Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian director, won the Golden Globe award for his movie Paradise Now for best foreign language film in 2006.

These awards are enough proof that Arabs have the required skills to win on the global stage, but why can’t they grab such awards on a yearly basis?

Arab cinema industry: what’s it missing?

Filmmaker and Golden Globe winner Hany Abu-Assad said “the Arab cinema should reach the Arab audience first before it reaches the world.”

As for Film critic Majida Khairallah, she told Al-Monitor, a news platform, that Arabs should produce joint film projects, because it opens new markets for film distribution and reaches a wider audience.

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“Perhaps the only way the Egyptian and Arab film industry can reach the international scene is by increasing production opportunities and cooperating with different countries to benefit from their experiences and large markets,” she said.

According to a study by HKTDC, a trade fair organizer, one of the biggest problems faced by local film producers, is that the region remains under-screened, making it difficult to distribute films widely and recoup production costs.

The Middle East Eye, a news website, reveals that in 2017, the vast majority of debutant Arab films was greeted with less enthusiasm by festivals and press alike.

“Torn between the desire for formal innovation and the fetishistic western demands for habitual political stories, Arab cinema, once again, caved in to the latter, churning out yet another crop of pictures revolving around the same familiar themes: war and armed conflicts, subjection of women, immigration and western exile, and poverty porn,” it said.

Moreover, censorship has tightened its grip over cinema across the region.

“From Egypt’s repressive military dictatorship to the shambolic power struggles in Lebanon, those who rule use censorship as a means of keeping dissent in check, convinced of the age-old formula that thick truncheons and thin skin are the most effective recipe for maintaining dominance,” says a study by Variety, an art platform.

However, the situation is not as bad as it seems.

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A positive outlook

HKTDC said the sector was growing largely, thanks to the support of Gulf-based film festivals, regional cultural funds and a number of European co-production deals, and that most cinema screens were concentrated in the more affluent GCC countries.

“When it comes to mainstream cinema, Egypt has long been the region’s production powerhouse – producing about 80% of the Arabic-language films screened in the UAE, Lebanon and Egypt, the region’s three biggest markets,” it added.

As for Filmmaker and Golden Globe Winner Hany Abu-Assad, he’s optimistic, saying that there are new thoughtful self-connected Arab moviemakers who can make constructive films that reach broad audience.

Top five Arab films of 2017

1. Wajib 

“Wajib” is a near-perfect family drama that announces the next stage in the trajectory of Palestinian cinema.

2. Le Fort des Fous

An undistinguishable blend of fiction and non-fiction, of cinematic traditions and video art that investigates the legacy of Algeria’s bloody colonialist past.

3. Ghost Hunting

Andoni recruits former Palestinian prisoners of the Moskobiya interrogation centre in Jerusalem to play the role of their captors, in an imagined film project in which unsuspecting actors are subjected to the horrors of the notorious prison.

4. Of Sheep and Men

Swiss Algerian Karim Sayad gives way for a fascinating, thoughtful study of marginalised lives, toxic male rivalry and the simmering violence of patriarchal Algerian society.

5. The Journey

Iraq’s most celebrated filmmaker Mohamed al-Daradji (Son of Babylon) delivers a heartfelt survey of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq in this 2006-set quasi thriller.