For decades, the Academy Awards has faced scrutiny for catering mostly to the white audience (#OscarsSoWhite) and lacking overall diversity in its film and actor nominations. That doesn't seem so different in 2020 as there was just one nonwhite actor who scored a nomination.
Speaking of diversity, the Arab world has rarely ever gotten recognition in the arena of film, let alone in the Oscars. Previously, Arab directors would send in their films to the Academy, but relatively speaking, the number of nominations received would remain quite low. This changed in the decade that passed, and it seems the change is continuing on into 2020. But that is not to say the recognition has reached its peak.
There are four films from the Arab region that are up in the running for a golden statuette at the 92nd edition of the Academy Awards, set to take place on Feb. 9. Here's a look at them:
Tunisian-Canadian film director Meryam Joobeur is all about telling "a human story" with her Oscar-nominated film Brotherhood (Ikhwene).
The film, which scored a nomination on Monday, tells the story of a Tunisian shepherd's son who comes home after being gone for several years ... with a new Syrian wife who wears the niqab. The father grows concerned with his radicalized son, sparking tensions in the family dynamic altogether.
The so-called Islamic State is "the undercurrent of the story" but the film's themes extend beyond that, touching on family and communication strongly throughout the film.
The film won big at the Toronto International Film Festival under the "Best Canadian Short Film" category. It is now competing for an Oscar under the "Best Live Action Short Film" category.
Nefta Football Club (Tunisia)
Nefta Football Club, which is also competing under the "Best Live Action Short Film" category, is directed by French Yves Piat and Damien Meghrebi, features Arab actors, and is an Arabic-language film.
It tells the story of two football fan brothers who come across a headphones-wearing donkey in the desert along the border of Algeria. Little did the boys know that the donkey was being used as bait for a drug deal, and so they took the animal back home with them.
The film has won several awards since its release including the Audience Award at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.
For Sama (Syria)
For Sama, a Syrian documentary directed by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, follows real events that occurred in Al-Kateab's life. The documentary centers around the fall of Aleppo through Al-Kataeb's lens; she used her camera to document and capture stories about love, war, loss, and motherhood over the course of five years in war-torn Aleppo.
The fact-based film is competing for an Oscar under the "Best Documentary Feature" category at the 92nd Academy Awards.
The film is dedicated to - and named after - the director's daughter, Sama. It won big at the Cannes Film Festival last year, taking home the Prix L'Œil d'Or (Golden Eye Prize) in May 2019.
The Cave (Syria)
Directed by Syrian Firas Fayyad, The Cave tells the moving story of Syrian female doctors who claim their right to work as equals alongside male colleagues in a patriarchal society that permeates war-ridden Syria.
The documentary follows the lives of pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballour and her colleagues as they save lives in an underground medical center. Together they defy odds under "daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks."
Last month, the film's director was denied an entry visa to the U.S. due to his nationality because under President Donald Trump's administration, people holding passports from Muslim-majority Syria, Yemen, Iran, Libya, and Somalia either have difficulties entering the U.S. or are simply turned down.
There were several Arab films hoping for an Oscar nomination ... but didn't get one
There were several Arab films competing for a nomination at the 92nd Academy Awards. Many of the films hailed from various Arab countries— from Saudi Arabia all the way to Lebanon.
The films that attempted but failed (not for lack of quality) to get a spot in the 2020 Oscars include:
- The Perfect Candidate by Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabia)
- It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman (Palestine)
- 1982 by Oulaid Mouaness (Lebanon)
- Poisonous Roses by Ahmad Fawzi Saleh (Egypt)
- Adam by Maryam Touzani (Morocco)
- Dear Son by Mohamed Ben Attia (Tunisia)
- Papicha by Mounia Meddour (Algeria)