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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

American social media star hopes to showcase Emirati life in feature film

Stanley Ekure has been living with an Emirati family for a year and wants to dispel any misconceptions the rest of the world may have about the UAE

Bilal Antara Shadad Al Mazrouei (center) dances with guests during a wedding at Baniyas wedding hall in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Bilal Antara Shadad Al Mazrouei (center) dances with guests during a wedding at Baniyas wedding hall in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

An American media producer is making a home-grown film to show the world that the charm of the UAE lies within its people not the high rise buildings.

Stanley Ekure hopes his film 'All in Good Time' will also be used as a stepping stone for Emirati talent whose work has not had a platform to be recognised on a wider scale.

“I wanted to use this movie to introduce Emirati artists to the world at large, and especially to other Emiratis who consume a lot of media content from the US and abroad but do not consume their own media content and talent,” Mr Ekure said.

Known as Bilal Antara Shadad Al Mazrouei from New York City, the 45-year-old has become a familiar character in local majlises and city events across the country.

He regularly updates his thousands of followers across the world on social media about life in the UAE, dispelling myths people may have about the Gulf.

Mr Ekure has been living with an Emirati family for a year. He raises and trains his own camels, always dresses in traditional local clothes and prides himself on doing the same thing an Emirati would daily.

Bilal Antara Shadad Al Mazrouei dances with the guests at a wedding in Baniyas. Pawan Singh / The National
Bilal Antara Shadad Al Mazrouei dances with the guests at a wedding in Baniyas. Pawan Singh / The National

He and his family chose his name in tribute to significant African-Arab characters from Arabic and Islamic history. Bilal ibn Rabah was of Ethiopian origin and is considered the first muezzin chosen by Prophet Mohammed himself. Antara ibn Shadad was an Ethiopian Arab knight and poet.

On Snapchat he answers peoples’ questions about what it is like to live in a Muslim country and how to adjust to life in the UAE. “And when they see me eating a camel they ask what does it taste like. They also send me pics of their camels in Australia to compare it with mine,” Mr Ekure said.

Now the American wishes to widen his audience to the millions by producing a comedy film about the region which would feature a variety of characters that “everyone can relate to”.

“The concept was born out of my desire to show my transformation coming from America not knowing a lot about the region, and Arabs,” he said.

Mr Ekure wants to show the rest of the world what he learnt: that a lot of the preconceptions he had about Arabs were not true.

“Each day I came into contact with more people, the scales came off my eyes and made me dig into the culture. And the more I looked the more I enjoyed it.”

“One thing that I really wanted to do with this movie is show the UAE, the way I saw the UAE.”

Mr Eureke’s love for the UAE began three years ago when an Emirati friend and his family invited him to visit the country for 40 days.

They took him from the airport to their family farm in the desert where he had a first-hand authentic local experience.

“They took me all over to Shuweib, Suweihan, Al Wathba, Liwa, Faujairah, Umm Al Quwain, I got to go to Al Dhafra; all around the seven emirates. And they explained to me about the culture.”

The cultural quirks he discovered and the subsequent mishaps he got himself into will be portrayed in the film through one of the main characters.

The film will revolve around an American businessman who gets into an accident and is separated from his business partner, losing his memory in the process.

“Then the shababs (a group of guys) come up upon him and see it as a gift from God to show some Arabic hospitality to this guy, and they take him on an adventure across the emirates to stimulate his memory and win him back.”

The story will see the character go through similar experiences that Mr Ekure went through.

“Like the first time I gave a khashmak (nose kiss), they told me that it's a kiss and that this is the culture here, no one told me it’s a kiss with the nose.”

“So I mistakenly gave Bu Naser of Liwa a kiss on his lips as my first khasmek,” he said.

“You have to realise I came from a different culture and I never wore a kandoura before, so there is a funny scene inspired by when I got stuck in an Arabic toilet.”

The family film will cost just under one million US dollars to produce and is being funded through local contributions, product placement and the filmmaker’s personal funds.

So far Mr Ekure has raised around $375,000 (Dh1,377,375).

“We have been able to get a couple of brands to come up on board, and incredible people who have made huge contributions, because they believe in the goal of the film,” he said.