Nadine Labaki: Actress, Activist, and Game-Changing Director

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Photo: Courtesy of UniFrance

The many creative, inspiring individuals from Lebanon who have appeared on the pages of Savoir Flair – like Diala Makki and Elie Saab – have spoken about the country’s civil war (1975-1990), which prompted them to each pursue a life that few would have dreamed, possible given the circumstances. What it is about conflict that prompts so many to seek solace in the arts? Perhaps it is the need to tangibly connect and communicate with others after feeling cut off or disenfranchised in some way.

For pioneering director and actress Nadine Labaki, her origin story is much the same, having been raised in Lebanon during the war. Labaki’s escape was her home TV set, which offered her a glimpse into worlds far away from the turmoil outside. By the age of 12, Labaki’s love of fiction and television seized hold, and the future auteur began to create fantasy narratives in her head.

The tenuous peace that was eventually achieved in the region was disrupted in 2008 by another bout of civil war, but this time, Labaki was capturing her version of the events for the big screen in the comedy Where Do We Go Now?, which was a favorite at Cannes Film Festival in 2011. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007, and also won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival that same year. Labaki forged her talent at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, where she won the Best Short Film Award at the Biennale of Arab Cinema at the Arab World Institute in Paris in 1997 with her graduation film 11 Rue Pasteur.

However, her breakout moment didn’t come until a decade later in 2007, when she debuted her first feature film Caramel, which she also starred in, to much praise at Cannes Film Festival. Caramel, a romantic comedy featuring five women who trade gossip and life advice at the local beauty salon, demonstrated a side of Beirut that few thought of or were aware existed.

Nadine Labaki: Actress, Activist, and Game-Changing Director

In her career, Labaki has acted in a few of her own films, playing the lead in Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?, but she is known primarily for her role as a groundbreaking female director in the Arab world (and beyond). Her talent landed her a coveted spot as one of the directors to contribute a short to Rio, I Love You, an anthology film that acts as a sequel to the critically acclaimed Paris, Je T’Aime and New York, I Love You. However, it’s her heartbreaking film Capernaum that has made her a household name.

Not only did Labaki become the female Lebanese director to be nominated for an Academy Award, but she also still supports the children who were in the movie, as well as their families and their future education – philanthropy is still very much the backbone of her work. She is also an outspoken human rights advocate, and has been visibly involved in the protests happening in Lebanon. For these reasons – and many more – she is one of our eternal heroes.

Not only is Labaki taking on huge roles and film projects, but she is also the mother to a son named Walid and a daughter named Mayroun, and wife of musician and composer Khaled Mouzanar. She has learnt how to make motherhood and her career work together, even joking on Instagram that she has learned “a whole new way of using your baby carrier” while sporting a carrier that contained a video monitor. And if all that isn’t enough, the actress also possesses confident red carpet style that favors monochrome column gowns with interesting necklines. Learn more about Labaki by visiting her website or following her on Instagram.

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