Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: the blind Emirati cartoon voice-over star

Amal Al Mansouri has never seen the shows she dubs, but has become their voice

Amal Al Mansouri records an Arabic language voiceover for a cartoon for local television. Victor Besa / The National
Amal Al Mansouri records an Arabic language voiceover for a cartoon for local television. Victor Besa / The National

Turn on an Arabic language cartoon and you will probably hear the fun-filled voice of Amal Al Mansouri. The Emirati is a voice-over and dubbing artist for animated programmes and commercials.

The curious thing is she never sees these shows – Amal is blind.

Through talent, patience and hard work, she memorises the scripts and the character's voice speaking English.

Amal then records the script in Arabic, working with producers to time and match with characters' dialogues.

“It took me more than five hours to make a five-minute-clip, I was very nervous," says Amal, who was raised in the remote coastal town of Sila, 350km west of Abu Dhabi.

Last week, the artist met Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who said Amal had "strong will and great aspiration".

"I am proud of her and her parents who have encouraged the positive effect in her life and highlighted her skills," he said.

Mohammed bin Zayed. I was pleased to meet my daughter Amal Mansouri from the owners of inspiration .. Her will solid and ambition great .. proved her ability to work and tender .. Proud of her and her people who had to encourage the positive impact in her life and highlight her skills. Mohammed bin zayed twitter acct.
Amal pictured with Sheikh Mohamed last week

Amal says she is "very lucky to have this opportunity, which gave me a push forward to carry on with what I’m doing".

But her journey to become a professional voice-over artist has been a long one.

Amal was two months old when doctors told her mother about a retinal detachment in her left eye that would also affect the right.

“I couldn’t see anything with my left eye and experienced difficulty seeing things from a distance with my right and by the time I had reached 13, I was completely blind," she says.

What followed was a difficult time in schools that she says were not well equipped to deal with disability.

“I remember that the kindergarten refused to keep me as I couldn’t see clearly, and I had the same issues with the school, so I stayed at home until a special needs centre opened in the area,” says Amal.

As a result, she spent a lot of time watching television.

Amal's favourite was Spacetoon, an Arabic channel that broadcasts programmes for children about space and that is how she fell in love with dubbing techniques.

“I used to record my own voice trying to imitate the ones in the TV and when I played it to my sisters," she adds with a smile, "They told me that I was very good at it."

Amal records the Arabic language voiceover for a Manga-style. Victor Besa / The National
Amal records the Arabic language voiceover for a Manga-style cartoon. Victor Besa / The National

Amal would write short stories and read them aloud to her family, performing the characters' tone.

In 2005, she started going to a special needs centre and learnt Braille, which changed her life.

“I was amazed by the system and it helped me communicate more,” says Amal.

"I also learned a bit of the sign language to be able to communicate with other friends at the centre."

A laptop given as a gift from her teacher allowed her to write stories on a Braille keyboard "and use the internet to discover the world".

“From there I started joining chat groups that talk about dubbing techniques, music and story writing with people from across the Arab world," she says.

“I also managed to connect with the cartoon dubbing artists at Spacetoon channel and was encouraged to write many more stories that talk about my community and the people around me,” she says.

It wasn’t a very good experience as I got bullied and abused at school for being blind

Amal Al Mansouri

Her time at a government secondary school from 2009 was difficult, Amal says, which inspired her to write about equality and understanding people of different abilities.

“It wasn’t a very good experience as I got bullied and abused at the school for being blind," she says.

In 2012, she was encouraged by one of her friends to stand-in for an artist who did voice-over for Japanese animation shows.

“It took me more than five hours to make a 5-minute-clip but my sister helped me calm down, and at the end, I decided to send them what I recorded and, surprisingly, they were very pleased,” she says.

Amal uses her laptop to record, she memories the character's style, reactions and emotions.

She then does her voice-over and sends it to her friends to add it to the original film.

“It’s not easy at all and sometimes, I tell my sisters to bring their mattresses and put them around me to create my own soundproof space,” she says.

Amal now features on many commercials, educational programmes, and has 12 dubbing roles on television.

She has also written 10 short stories and three novels, one was made taped into audio by artists at Spacetoon.

The Special Olympics World Games, which was held in Abu Dhabi in March, was a big moment for Amal.

“In March, I was encouraged to record a note to Sheikh Mohamed to express how proud I am to be a UAE citizen. I also said that I’m very proud of my country for hosting the Special Olympics World Games, which portrayed people of determination as real heroes and celebrated their abilities,” she says.

After posting her letter, she received a call from the Crown Prince Court to visit Sheikh Mohamed.

“It was a dream come true and we should keep on dreaming and achieving,” she says.

Amal hopes to start her own voice-over and dubbing agency and make films that promote values of equality.

“I want to prove that people of determination are capable of doing anything with their determination and will,” she says.

Updated: July 4, 2019 01:04 PM

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