FEBRUARY 1, 2019


-- Nadine Labaki and Zain Al Rafeea

Nadine Labaki, a Lebanese film producer/director, is the first Arab woman to be nominated for an Oscar. Her recent film, Capernaum, had won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was recently shown at the United Nations Headquarters upon the invitation of Lebanon's Permanent Representative, Amal Mudallali. It tells the story of Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a young boy who sues his parents for the "crime of giving him life."

The movie's cast consist of nonprofessional characters, whose lives closely parallel their own. When the non-actors' instincts diverged from the written script, Labaki adapted the screenplay to follow them. It impressed viewers with the character's emotional intensity, an unexpected tenderness with inspiring flashes of poetic imagery.

Although it is set in the depths of a society's systematic inhumanity, Capernaum is ultimately a hopeful film that stirs the heart as deeply as it cries out for action. The boy, Zain, was actually born in Syria; spoke in a Syrian accent with his parents and Lebanese with his neighbors. After presenting the film at the United Nations, Nadine Labaki mentioned that the boy had initially left for Sweden then settled in Norway, where apparently he's now a local celebrity.

Asked whether there was any special message intended, she left it open for everyone's interpretation. Perhaps one main point is that everyone matters. Human dignity is a natural right for each and every one.

Nadine Labaki, who comes from a highly regarded intellectual family from Mount Lebanon, will be the first Arab woman to win an Oscar.