Tara Emad on Movies, #MeToo, and the Power of Philanthropy

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Tara Emad Bulgari Save the Children
Tara Emad | Photo: Courtesy of Bulgari

Not only is model Tara Emad almost superhumanly beautiful, but she is also an actress on the rise. With past appearances in films like The Fourth Pyramid and an upcoming role in the highly anticipated The Blue Elephant 2, she has emerged as one of Arab cinema’s most promising new talents.

Modern society treats models and actresses like royalty, devoting millions of column inches to dissecting everything from their diets and hairstyles to romantic partners. Although they are humans, fame has a way of transforming them into something else, something more than human – but there is a dark side to all that attention. With million of eyeballs comes the expectation that they are now public commodities. We simultaneously lionize and dehumanize.

Being a celebrity is to exist in a bizarre paradoxical world, one that is difficult to reconcile with logic and reason, but Emad is different. Meeting her in person exposes you to her formidable beauty, but it also gives you a sense of her vulnerability. She is someone who cares deeply and passionately about others – a rare quality in someone at her level of fame. Not only has she worked for her own philanthropic causes, but she is also a partner in Bvlgari’s commitment to Save the Children, and it is a task she takes very seriously.

There is so much gravitas to her person that being in her presence is something of a surprise. Why is someone so young and dazzling so gravely concerned with other people? What we learned by speaking to Emad is that these values are ingrained from her childhood, imparted by an equally passionate mother who taught her that to truly be happy, one must elevate the happiness of others. For these and more valuable lessons from one of this generation’s most exciting new creative talents, listen in on our conversation, below.

I was not prepared for the attention that comes from being on TV.

As a model who transitioned into acting, which of the two careers is more challenging?
Well, they’re both challenging in their own way. I love modeling. I love it to bits and pieces, but I’ve always dreamt of Hollywood. This has been my ultimate dream, and I’m working on it constantly. I realize that I’ve done quite a bit of modeling in Egypt and abroad, so why not focus solely on acting since this is the thing you want to continue in the long run? Both have their own challenges – you encounter people and opportunities, but sometimes, those people and opportunities aren’t nice. It just depends on what you take from it.  

It seems like the #MeToo movement never caught on in this part of the world. Have you seen any progress here since you started in this realm or do you feel like it still has a long way to go?
I’ve seen progress in the sense that show business in general has grown – there’s so much exposure now. Models, actors, actresses, and fashion designers are able to market themselves because of social media and the platforms we have. Everyone is a marketeer now because you need to know how to sell your product or brand. In acting, the brand is your name. I was 14 when I started modeling, and there was no Instagram. Back then, I could not market myself much. All I had was shoots and magazines. I was not exposed as much as people now get.  

However, the #MeToo movement did not reach the Arab world that I know of, but there are other movements that are happening. Some are big, some are less known, but there are still a lot of women’s empowerment movements being put out there, which is amazing. With all of the platforms available, you are heard by the entire world when you say something. This is such a privilege.

Does it ever make you feel vulnerable to put messages out there that could garner backlash?
Of course! I was 20 when I first started acting, and the comments that I received and people flooding my social media accounts was very scary. I was not prepared for the attention that comes from being on TV – I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for that. And everyone that follows you thinks it’s okay to tell you that you look ugly or say other mean things. There are so many mean things that are said, and they feel okay to say it.

It really hurt in the beginning because I didn’t understand it. Then I realized that the less attention I give it, the less power it has over me. Of course, sometimes I see a rude comment and it breaks a little piece of me – it happens. We’re humans, not robots. I love to reply to people, though. I’m never mean. If someone is badmouthing me, I just remove them. But the beauty of being human is being vulnerable and accepting all that comes, and not letting it affect you.  

I don’t know why we seek validation from people when we post on Instagram. We need to stop sending this message to children. Try to have a reason to be on social media. I was trying to figure out what my reason was, so I started talking about things that matter to me. I talk about reading. I want to know what books my fans are reading, so I engaged with them on things like that. It makes me feel better about being on social media.  

Tara Emad Bulgari Save the Children
Photo: Courtesy of Bulgari

You have a very busy year. Can we talk about the projects you’re working on now, and some future projects that you have in line?
I just finished a film called The Blue Elephant 2. It’s a dream come true. The lead actor Karim Abdel Aziz is one of my favorite actors in the industry – I know each and every film of his. It was amazing to stand in front of him and act. This was the second time I’ve worked with the director, Marwan Hamed. I feel very happy because he sees potential in me. The first movie I was in, my role was not as big, but he gave me a bigger role in this one. It’s not a gigantic role, but it’s a really cool sequence.

I’m working on some short films that are filled with acting and a lot of experimentation. We want to get them into some festivals – I want to do more of that. And then there’s always something happening with personal projects. I just took a little break after filming because I still have exams for university as well. I’m studying applied arts and sciences. It’s actually pretty cool, we’re learning a lot. I’m not very good with technology, so it’s a challenge. University is challenging me to learn more about the crazy things you can do, like helping people and inventing things. We’re constantly learning, so it’s a lot of fun.

You are frequently in Dubai. What brings you to Dubai this time?
This is my eighth time at the Bvlgari Resort Dubai and, this time, I’m coming for the celebration of 100 years of Save the Children, the ten-year anniversary of Bulgari’s partnership with Save the Children, and the release of the new Give Hope campaign. It’s this big celebration for all three things, and I’m super excited to be a part of it.

What is the mission of the campaign?
The mission of Give Hope is to celebrate the past by providing a better future for the children, so they’re celebrating the heritage of Bvlgari and the amazing accomplishments of Save the Children. They’ve raised 90 million, and now they want to make it 100 million. They’re celebrating that, but pledging to have an even brighter future for children who are underprivileged and need that spark of hope – that tiny bit of, ‘I can help you become something. I can help you be someone. I can help educate you.’ So that’s a big thing.

What did it feel like when Bvlgari approached you to be a partner? It must have been validating.
Honestly, it was. Being a part of this makes me remember how important education is to me. I always believe that education is the pillar of each and every person’s capabilities to grow more, to seek more opportunities, and to be able to know more about life and the ways they can provide for their families and themselves before anyone else. This was always a very important part of my upbringing. I’ve always said that education is important. Gain knowledge for yourself and no one else.  

Back in Egypt, several years ago, I was a part of this organization that used to go to rural areas in Cairo, places where girls get married at the age of 13, 14. We’d enter their house and we’d talk to them. ‘Why are you getting married?’ ‘Why don’t you at least finish junior high?’ ‘Why don’t you just finish another year?’ And then you try to instill the positive messages of what another year or two of education could do for them. ‘Why not postpone marriage?’ ‘Why not continue seeking knowledge?’

I believe no one can ever learn enough. You’re constantly learning based on your mere existence in this world. Like if a person passes by you, you can still learn something, so the fact that you can seek to learn something from every opportunity around you is a privilege. It was a very big thing for me to be able to talk to those girls. Some said no, and some said yes. It was very interesting.

It seems like philanthropy is important to you beyond this campaign and your partnership with Bvlgari. You also have your own charity organization called Help from Your Heart. Do you still operate that?
We’re not operating 100 percent because we’re still doing paperwork for registration, and that takes a lot of time. Aside from that, I do my own stuff, but it’s not operating under the name Help from Your Heart. It was a very dear sort of initiative that my mom and I were very keen on growing. I was not that famous in the beginning and people were not that focused on our charity work, so it was fine that it was unregistered. But now, I don’t want to get in trouble, so I’m just waiting for it to be registered so we can go big.  

Make everything you do worthwhile.

Do your philanthropic values come from your mother? Why is that a passion for her?  
Yes, it does. She always instilled in me this motto of ‘when you’re happy, make someone else happy, and your happiness will double’. Whenever my mom and I get good news, we get this feeling that we believe someone else deserves good news, too – why not make someone else happy? It can be such a tiny gesture. She instilled this in me, and this is how we live and function.  

It’s very important that, as a child, you have parents who know how to communicate about what philanthropy is. You should not take it as pride. You are talking about it for a reason – and not because it makes you feel good. Try to make is as selfless as possible. It’s so hard to find a selfless deed because when you receive happiness from anything you do, then it’s not selfless anymore. Still, if you’re talking about it, make the talking worthwhile. Make the talking shed light on the things you care about. Make everything you do worthwhile.

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