Nadine Labaki: Beacon For Change

Illustration by Ali Mandalawi
Illustration by Ali Mandalawi

Nadine Labaki: Beacon For Change

Nadine Labaki , first Arab female filmmaker to ever be nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign language film category is still continuing her quest to reinvent the film industry and transform the way mainstream media perceives Middle Eastern cinema.

The Lebanese actor, screenwriter and director has become a beacon for change. For more than a decade, Labaki has used her award-winning creative work to shed light on universal societal issues, such as child poverty and women’s empowerment, in the hopes it will spur action across the world because, to her, “art is the only medium for change.”

She completed her Audiovisual Studies at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut. Labaki grew up during the years of civil war. Her feature debut Caramel (2017) premiered in Cannes and received many awards. In 2018, Labaki became the first female Arab filmmaker to win a major prize in competition when her latest feature Capharnaüm/Capernaum (2018) received the Jury Prize in Cannes.

She was born February 18, 1974 in Baabdet to Antoine, a telecommunications engineer, and Antoinette Labaki, a homemaker. Her affinity towards film began at a young age when she and her sister spent many nights watching “literally hundreds of films” together. She always knew that she would end up in the industry.

​​The Lebanese director and screenwriter is known for tearing down stereotypes and touching on fundamental issues that have become taboo in a way that has made her one of the most admired filmmakers of her generation in the Arab world.

Religion, war, women’s role in society, and the different challenges that the Lebanese person undergoes in daily life are topics Nadine orchestrates with color and music and in humorous and poetic ways in her movies including the global successes “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?” (Halla La Wen). She is known for achieving authenticity by casting non-professional actors based on their actual human characteristics. “I like to give the impression that whatever is happening is true,” she says.

After the explosion in Beirut on the 4th of August, 2020, Labaki took to the streets to help out those who had been left homeless and hopeless by the blast -- "the biggest non-nuclear explosion, and the third in magnitude after Nagasaki," she explains. She also calls what happened "a crime against humanity" which the Western media covered as just another bomb blast in the Middle East. Her Instagram account displays the hashtag #keeptalkingaboutBeirut and along with her husband, composer Khaled Mouzanar they have contributed in making sure Beirut remains in the minds and hearts of people around the world.


Netflix is planning an English-language take on the French feature Les Invisibles which  Cannes regular Nadine Labaki is set to direct.

The Invisibles will take place at a day shelter where, according to the project’s synopsis, “homeless people congregate for food, warmth, and connection. When local officers decide to close the shelter, social workers have three months to reintegrate the women they care for — at any cost.”

Also, Beirut-based Empire International and Cairo-based Film Clinic have unveiled a high-profile cast for their upcoming Arabic-language remake of Italian comedy Perfect Strangers and announced early 2021 shooting dates.

The all-star cast will combine Lebanese talents Nadine Labaki, George Khabbaz, and Adel Karam with Egyptian star Mona Zaki and Jordan’s Eyad Nassar, who is also a star of mainstream Egyptian cinema. 

Produced by Medusa Film, Leone Film Group and Lotus Productions, Paolo Genovese’s comedy-drama Perfect Strangers grossed more than $20m at the Italian box office and $31m internationally in 2016. It revolves around longtime friends who decide to play a game over dinner by putting all their mobile phones on the table, to reveal every text message or phone call they receive that evening.

Gabriel Yammine and Wissam Smayra have adapted the original screenplay for the Arabic-language version. Smayra, who was an executive producer on Labaki’s Capernaum, will also make his feature directing debut on the production.


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