Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2013: Hiam Abbass on Arab stereotypes in films
From left, Deborah Young, Hiam Abbass, Aparna Sen and Nahid Persson Sarvestani at the Heroines of the SIlver Screen seminar

Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2013: Hiam Abbass on Arab stereotypes in films


The Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass has revealed that she has turned down roles in big-name movies because she felt they didn't portray Arabs in a truthful way.

She was speaking as one of the panelists at an Abu Dhabi Film Festival seminars called Heroines of the Silver Screen, which featured women who made their mark in the filmmaking industry.

Abbass, who is known for her roles in movies such as The Visitor, Munich and Babel, discussed her criteria for selecting a role in a movie.

“I don’t choose a part for its nationality, I choose it because it represents something that I feel as a women, a human being, an actress, a Palestinian and as an Arab,” she told the packed audience at the seminar in the Emirates Palace.

"I take into account the structure of the character, whether I connect with them or not. I at least have to not be ashamed by the part."

She implied that some directors from the West misrepresent characters from the Middle East.

“Sometimes I happen to read very big commercial movies portraying Arabs, or a non-Arab Muslim, like a Turkish or Iranian,” she recalls.

“It’s often what these Western directors see Arabs as in their stories. I could like the [director] I’m meeting, but if I don’t think the character is written in a way that develops in a way I do not want to go, then I just say ‘no.’”

The Heroines of the Silver Screen panel also included the Iranian-Swedish documentary maker Nahid Persson Sarvestani and the Indian director and actress Aparna Sen.