Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

‘There is a lack of videos for Arabic speakers’: Syrian animator in Hollywood creates content for children in lockdown

Reem Ali Adeeb has started a new YouTube channel that encourages kids to get creative

Artist Reem Ali Adeeb poses in her studio apartment in Los Angeles, California, where she is developing online tutorials in Arabic. AFP
Artist Reem Ali Adeeb poses in her studio apartment in Los Angeles, California, where she is developing online tutorials in Arabic. AFP

Reem Ali Adeeb, an animation artist who works for Warner Bros Entertainment, might be safe from the coronavirus in her Los Angeles home, working on Netflix series Green Eggs and Ham, but her thoughts lie with the children struggling in her homeland.

“My biggest concern is for the Syrian children, who are, in fact, not at home but in tents in camps,” she tells The National. “Refugee children are the most vulnerable demographic during these times. Me and every Syrian I know are concerned for them and wish for these kids to be protected.”

It’s children in the Middle East that she and her sister, Sandi, who is based in Qatar, started their new project for. It’s a YouTube channel called Susupreemo that is full of interactive Arabic-language tutorials that focus on arts and crafts.

“We are producing fun, entertaining videos for kids,” Adeeb says. “All the video titles start with ‘yallah’ or ‘let us’, so it’s not a tutorial so much as an interactive experience, whether to draw, read or do crafts together.

The words 'Let's Draw' in Arabic on Reem Ali Adeeb's screen. AFP
The words 'Let's Draw' in Arabic on Reem Ali Adeeb's screen. AFP

“Our hope is for kids to [have] fun but with creative and beneficial screen time, and to watch content that feels like it’s specially made for them.”

Adeeb believes there is a huge lack of Arabic-language content on the internet. Why? “That is a great but big question,” she says. “There are a lot of reasons, but my guess would be the lack of funding. Not a lot of Arab investors seem to be interested in creating content that benefits and nourishes the young generation. And those who do invest usually come with an agenda, whether it’s cultural or to sell children toys or magazines.”

While there is plenty of dubbed entertainment coming from the East and West, Adeeb believes there should be more content tailor-made for Arabic-speaking youth, including animation, educational and musical shows.

“Entertainment that is true to their reality and speaks their language,” she says. “Things to watch on TV that carry a positive, happy message.”

That is why this project is so dear to her heart. “I want to make content that makes the Arabic-speaking kid feel special and creative,” says Adeeb. “I want them to listen to these stories and feel like she or he has a place in the world, and the world is encouraging her or him to create and be themselves.”

At the moment, there are seven videos that have been co-created by the siblings and uploaded to their YouTube channel. These are basic tutorials on drawing, making origami or simply reading children’s books aloud. There is also a Facebook page, where the pair interact with parents and children, who send in drawings and suggestions for other content.

I’m thinking of a kid who loves to draw or just spend time with paper and colour

“We are hoping to lift their spirits and distract them from the current events, but at the same time [encourage them to] not stay passively watching but actually create and draw along with the video – and hopefully make something they could be proud of, and show their parents or put on the fridge door,” she says.

While Adeeb insists she did not have a specific type of child in mind when creating the content, she believes the videos would be most beneficial to those aged between 5 and 12. “When making the videos, I’m thinking of a kid who loves to draw or just spend time with paper and colour. I want to give him or her the encouragement they need to keep drawing and maybe a few tips that will improve their skills and therefore [allow them to] enjoy drawing more.”

Hollywood animation artist Reem Ali Adeeb in her studio apartment. AFP
Hollywood animation artist Reem Ali Adeeb in her studio apartment. AFP

Drawing is Adeeb’s life after all. She was born and raised in Damascus, and got her first job in animation in the city at the age of 19. It was with a studio called Star Animation, where she co-directed a short film called Laila and the Wolf, which got accepted in Syria’s Shabablek Film Festival. Her second film, The Traveller, was created for her graduation project at Damascus University.

After winning a grant from the Syrian government to co-create a short for the Damascus Arab Cultural Capital event, Adeeb moved to San Francisco in 2008 to pursue her passion for animation and study a master’s in the subject at the Academy of Art University. She has been in the US ever since, working with studios as a character designer and with prominent artists she respects, such as Pascal Campion and Bill Perkins.

My goal is to feature more Arabic-speaking artists and offer a platform where they can speak to the younger generation

The pandemic has seen the animation industry in Los Angeles shift to working from home, a change she has found difficult to adjust to. “I tend to thrive in a group set-up where I’m surrounded by my coworkers,” she says. “The nice thing about it is now there is a little bit more time for a project like [Susupreemo]. The lack of commute and social events gave me a little more time.

"My sister Sandi cannot say the same thing because she is a working mum who is now also home-schooling her 7-year-old.”

With the extra time, Adeeb is planning to produce more valuable content for children. “We are looking to create more reading videos, more drawing videos and hopefully dance and music videos in the near future,” she says. “And for the far future, my goal is to feature more Arabic-speaking artists and offer a platform where established artists can speak to the younger generation about art and literature, and inspire them.”

Updated: May 6, 2020 12:32 PM

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