Starring in Saudi Arabia's first-ever chick flick is actress and activist Fatima Al-Banawi
"Your dating skills are so... 1983," exclaims the flabbergasted Fatima Al-Banawi as Bibi, who just rejected her boyfriend's heart-shaped box with lingerie nestled within. The scene from Berlin Film Festival's Barakah Meets Barakah may seem like any typical modern-day romcom, until you realise it's set in Saudi Arabia, known for its gender segregation. Falling in love in Saudi Arabia is as private as it gets — which is probably why the highly raved movie isn't screened in the country's one and only cinema. Defying all odds, Al-Banawi goes against the taboos Saudi deems off-limits as Mahmoud Sabbagh-directed feature's stylish and well-heeled Instagram star. The wealthy Bibi falls in love with the humble, municipal officer Barakah, and as you've predicted, relationship problems soon ensue. A coming-of-age story set in the Kingdom, it's the princess-and-the-pauper trope played out in a Middle Eastern setting unfamiliar to pop culture.
Off the reels, Al-Banawi is a Harvard pedigree who hunches over the Ivy Leagues' Women, Gender, and Islamic Studies and passionately takes part in the cause of fighting against women and child abuse. Portraying the female lead in the mind-opening film was a no-brainer for the activist, and in a recent interview, Al-Banawi attested, "We're definitely at a point where we've been accustomed for so long to see representations of our hometown, our country, our part of the world being portrayed on our behalf, and it's about time that we take charge and [be] our own agents, still being mindful that this is only one of several different portrayals possible. The fact that it was a full [feature] film with all these social elements and history that it's bringing forward, like talking about different socioeconomic backgrounds, privilege, and who has access to what, and all this encouraged me to pursue this. I didn't see it as separate from what I was doing in my studies. It's been great." Barakah Meets Barakah will be screened at The Projector as part of its Middle East Film Festival on 28 October. For last week's #WomanCrushWednesday, click here.