Fighting to be heard and seen
“It’s always going to be a daily struggle,” admits the director Amirah Tajdin. We are discussing the tribulations of being young, female and of colour.
“Last week I was put forward for a car commercial and all the other directors were white males,” she says. “Three of them hadn’t even done car commercials before. Of course I didn’t get the job. But I wasn’t surprised. The guy they gave it to was a white male, had never done a car commercial before, had never even done a TVC. Why did he get it? No one will ever give you a straight or honest answer.
“I asked around because I want to know, and if there’s a space for me to challenge myself I want that challenge. They were like ‘oh, they’ve worked with him before, they liked his personality’. Okay. You’ve seen my reel, you’ve seen his reel, we’ve been put forward by the same agency or production house, what’s the difference? It can only be one thing.”
Life can be tough if you’re a female commercials director and Tajdin is on the front line. One of only a handful in the UAE, she has directed ads for the likes of Cadillac, Bloomingdale’s, Peroni and Pepsi, yet still faces an uphill struggle against some agencies and clients.
Although she brushes off much of her concern with an occasional ‘whatever’ the annoyance must occasionally wear her down. If it does, she’s not letting it show. November 2016
“There was another shoot where the whole campaign was about Dubai – a city like no other, let’s find the depth of the city etc. – and then they didn’t go with a local director,” she says. “The director they chose hadn’t even visited here. He’s expected to come into this city for 10 days and produce this amazing work for them like ‘oh yeah, I get it, Dubai’. I think what clients and agencies don’t realise is you can do that with cities like New York and London and Paris because we’ve seen them in a million and one movies, they’re thoroughly documented, and as a director you can fly from anywhere, go there and still shoot something super cool that’s authentic to the city. That’s not the case with Dubai, where the nooks and crannies you can experience here are not as easy to find.”
Softly spoken with frequently piercing eyes, Tajdin was born into a Swahili/omani community in Kenya and has spent much of her life between Nairobi, South Africa and Dubai, where she spent her teen years and now lives. Although her time appears primarily focussed on personal work, such as short films and prospective features, it is advertising that is her bread and butter.
Much of that work is created with producer sister Wafa Tajdin, who she spent four years with in Kenya before moving back to Dubai. It was there that they forged their working relationship, produced their first long-form documentary together, and shot a short film that did well on the festival circuit.
It’s a shame for me to wake up sometimes and look up and see that all my team are boys. Where are the girls?