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Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has become the first female artist in the Arab world to be nominated for an Academy Award, or Oscar.
Labaki directed the film “Capernaum,” a film about a Syrian refugee boy and a Kenyan baby who live without parents on the streets of Beirut. It was nominated for best foreign language film.
Labaki will be the only female directors to compete for an Oscar this year. She told the Associated Press, “I wish there were a lot more women filmmakers this year represented, nominated in the Oscars. But I am sure in a few years we won’t be having this problem anymore.”
Unlike in the West, women filmmakers are industry leaders in Lebanon.
″Capernaum” is Labaki’s third full-length film. In her home country, the 44-year old mother of two children is a unifying figure among political and religious divisions. Labaki first became famous as a director of music videos for top Arab pop stars.
“Capernaum” received a 15-minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It won the Jury Prize – the third-highest award given at Cannes.
The United Nations has publicly praised the film. Lebanon’s Foreign Minister said “Capernaum” put “a Lebanese touch” on the international film industry.
The Oscar nomination of “Capernaum” is the second for Lebanon in two years in the foreign film group. It demonstrates the country’s rising star power.
Labaki called making the movie a life-changing experience. She said “Capernaum” helps humanize the real struggles of refugees only briefly talked about in the news.
“We can’t help but acknowledge that there is a…fear of refugees in general around the world and there are these walls we are building, and this fear that keeps growing,” Labaki said.
As she observed her small country struggling with a growing number of refugees, Labaki said she felt it was her “duty” to speak out against governments failing to deal with the crisis. Lebanon has one of the largest populations of Syrian refugees in the Arab world. “And their story is very painful,” Labaki said.
Both main characters in the film are refugees in real life. The Syrian child, Zain, has now found a home in Norway. And the young Kenyan, Yonas, has returned home. Labaki plans to make a documentary film on the lives of both children in the future.
“Capernaum” will compete against four other films for the Oscar, including awards season favorite “Roma.” Directed by Mexico’s Alfonso Cuaron, it earned 10 Oscar nominations, including for best picture.
The Academy Awards ceremony is Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. It will be held on February 24 in Los Angeles, California.
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