HAIFA BESEISSO:

“WHY I MADE A MU­SI­CAL TO SHAT­TER STEREO­TYPES IN THE MID­DLE EAST”

Grazia Middle East - - THE HOT STORIES - IT WAS VERY IM­POR­TANT TO US THAT THE PEO­PLE WE CAST WERE AU­THEN­TIC, WITH GOOD EN­ERGY

DUBAI-BASED PALES­TINIAN

VLOG­GER Haifa Beseisso has al­ways been about chal­leng­ing bound­aries, whether they be so­cial, geo­graph­i­cal or cul­tural, but her lat­est project, which pre­miered in Los An­ge­les this week, sees her blur­ring the gen­res of rap and vaude­ville in a mu­si­cal that in­tends to ad­dress mis­con­cep­tions about the Mid­dle East. “It was al­ways my child­hood dream to show the world the real Mid­dle East,” she tells Grazia en route to LA. “What I see in the movies has al­ways up­set me and I don’t be­lieve is true to who we are.”

The re­sult is a seven-minute video called Stereo­type World. The en­deav­our took four months to

OUR MES­SAGE AS YOUNG PEO­PLE IS WE DON’T CARE ABOUT BAR­RI­ERS OR POL­I­TICS. WE JUST WANT TO SHARE THE SAME MES­SAGE TO­GETHER

con­cep­tu­alise and film across the re­gion, which saw her shoot in Dubai, Egypt, Mo­rocco and Su­dan as part of YouTube’s Cre­ators for Change pro­gramme – a global ini­tia­tive that sup­ports vlog­gers tack­ling so­cial is­sues and pro­mot­ing aware­ness, tol­er­ance and em­pa­thy on their channels – of which Haifa is one of 50 am­bas­sadors for 2018.

She ex­plains, “We chose the coun­tries based on prox­im­ity, where was eas­i­est for the crew to get visas, and which lo­ca­tions were most his­toric and dra­matic – such as the Egyp­tian pyra­mids and the Blue City in Mo­rocco.” Keen to make sure more re­gions were rep­re­sented be­yond those the crew trav­elled to, Haifa adds, “Al­though we didn’t film ev­ery­where, peo­ple from coun­tries in­clud­ing Pales­tine, Iraq, So­ma­lia and Al­ge­ria wore their na­tional dress.”

And while we’re on the sub­ject of Mid­dle Eastern rep­re­sen­ta­tion, she points out, “By the way, there is a de­bate over whether or not cer­tain coun­tries are part of the Mid­dle East. Our mes­sage as young peo­ple is: we don’t care about bar­ri­ers or pol­i­tics and just want all to share the same mes­sage to­gether.” World lead­ers, take note.

The video be­gins with Haifa declar­ing that the im­pres­sion of the Mid­dle East trans­mit­ted to the rest of the world by main­stream news channels is what she be­lieves to be “a beau­ti­fully crafted and mea­sured lie.” Red vel­vet the­atre cur­tains part to re­veal snake charm­ers and belly dancers por­trayed in a vaudevillestyle in a mu­sic-hall set­ting to

re­in­force the idea of ar­ti­fice.

How­ever it’s the girl rap fea­tur­ing Haifa flanked by in­flu­encers from Mo­rocco, Le­banon, Dubai and Saudi – in­clud­ing Grazia Girl Gang Am­bas­sador for En­trepreneur­ship Sara Al Madani – all chant­ing,

“So, yalla, yalla, yalla, yalla, let’s put an end to all the stereo­types, in­shal­lah!” as mes­sage of em­pow­er­ment that’s set­ting In­sta­gram alight. “It was very im­por­tant to us that the peo­ple we in­cluded were au­then­tic, with good en­ergy,” she adds, re­fer­ring to the cast list that spanned all ages from “the lit­tlest ones” to the ha­j­jat, which is a re­spect­ful Ara­bic term for el­derly women.

Film­ing Stereo­type World was not with­out its chal­lenges, though. Flights were missed, Haifa got kicked by a camel, and the crew ran out of money in Mo­rocco and were taken in and fed by the lo­cals.

Haifa sees this project as an op­por­tu­nity to help re­brand the Mid­dle East. “The mes­sage

I’m send­ing to the world is not to be­lieve all they see in main­stream in­ter­na­tional me­dia as a one-sided story.” She cites the big­gest stereo­type as the fact that women don’t have a voice.

“It’s so im­por­tant be­cause I be­lieve ev­ery­thing these days is about brand­ing – per­sonal brands prod­ucts, coun­tries and some­times even re­li­gion. So be­ing an Arab and a trav­eller, I was up­set about how Ara­bia was por­trayed. My mis­sion is to show the truth.”

Visit Grazi­aME.com to watch the full video to Stereo­type World and visit Haifa’s YouTube chan­nel Fly With Haifa at YouTube.com/BeSaySo

Film­ing Stereo­type World took Haifa as far afield as Egypt, Mo­rocco and Su­dan

Sel­man Mar­rakech was among the dra­matic lo­ca­tions in Stereo­type World

As well as in­flu­encers from Dubai, Mo­rocco, Saudi and Le­banon, cast mem­bers in­cluded ev­ery­one from “the lit­tlest ones” to the ha­j­jat

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