Style & Experiences

“Militating is risky. But you have to resist”

Nadine Labaki, Lebanese filmmaker and actress, great voice of Lebanon whose movies have often impressed the jurors of the Cannes Film Festival, was invited in Dubai by the Cartier brand to talk about women empowerment. In an exclusive interview, she talks about her commitment and her fight for her country’s rebirth, the place of artists and generally of women.

Nadine Labaki's female solidarity has touched the world since the release of her first film, Caramel, in 2007. Here the actress and filmmaker at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)

At the stage of the congress center, on March 8, 2022, she tells with tenderness and her deep suave voice the story of transmission. The one of a mother to the future woman she watches grow up. Nadine Labaki, Lebanese actress and filmmaker, talks about her commitment, which she deems necessary, towards a thought system that needs to evolve. At the heart of Dubai, at Expo 2020, her speech catches the attention of all. Officials, civil society and simply men and women concerned by women empowerment are listening. Nadine Labaki, a public figure in Lebanon, just as she does in each of her movies, expresses the beauty of complex relations between men and women. Her first movie Caramel was a milestone at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. Her ode to feminine solidary reached audiences worldwide. Since then, she has been exploring human condition, love, frustration, tolerance, beauty, horror. Her feature film Capharnaum, powerful and moving story of human misery, won the Jury’s Price at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. We met her in Dubai at the closing of the Women’s Pavilion supported by Cartier, and Nadine Labaki talked to us about her views on women.

Nadine Labaki's feature film Capharnaum won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, here the actress behind the scenes of the set (Fahres Sokhon)

Which women inspire you?

For as long as I can remember, women around me have always worn black. This image is of course related to the death of a child, as I lived in a country at war, Lebanon. I was fascinated by these women’s resilience, by their capacity to adapt to loss. I constantly wondered: “How do they manage to carry on living their daily lives, laughing.” These memories inspired my movie Caramel, the crossroads story of Lebanese women from very different backgrounds. I also had the need to understand the reasons and sadness I read on the faces of women from my childhood. Was this related to the war or the finger of society pointing at them, dictating good behavior. I have this need to understand why a distance exists between our dreams and our accomplishments. These women inspire me. They are women of everyday life.

How is the place of women evolving in the Middle Eastern society?

I always asked myself this question: is the look of others a weight exclusively lived by women? Men go through as much social judgement as we do, it is not a question of sex. It is as difficult for a man than for a woman to thrive in the movie business for example, when one lives in Lebanon. It is still very difficult to show films. But this does not mean that women’s situation is ideal. Not at all. Much work remains to be done regarding the implementation of a legal framework dedicated to defending women’s rights. Yet, women still have an impact and a strength for important changes in Lebanese society. At the heart of families, women are strong. Beyond genders, Lebanon is complex, as it is a superposition of multiple communities.

As an artist, your look on women can have a certain weight. It is a responsibility. What is your ambition?

Nadine Labaki during the filming of her movie "Where do we go now" (DR)

My will to express myself always comes from an obsession with the moment. In Caramel, I explored the look on life, on others. Then in my movie, “Where do we go now”, I gave a place to these women, Muslim, Christian, who decided one day to do everything possible to prevent men from taking up arms. They have the same role today, in current wars. I am convinced women will have a great role to play in the decisions of tomorrow. I am not a pessimist.

Yet, during Covid, women’s rights decreased. In several countries, the right for abortion is declining. We are not going in the right direction. How do women need to speak to be heard?

It is a question of education. For a more empathic world, one must go back to childhood. Too many walls and borders have been built, we need a new beginning, a new education.

Must women redefine themselves?

At the Expo 2022 in Dubai, Nadine Labaki talked about her commitment towards a thought system that needs to evolve (Cartier)

Self-censorship, self-restriction has become women’s second nature. The notion of sacrifice is deeply anchored. They often repress their desires to be worthy of what is expected of them, they repress their femininity, their needs as women, their power, their thoughts. How many times have women changed their skirts for trousers, in a reunion, to be heard? How many times have they removed their lipstick? Masculinity has for long been a metric of success. Everything needs to be redefined, and women must think about who they truly are.

What kind of women do you like to show?

There is no general rule. I like to show women aligned with their potential, with their power. It is a lot of work to try and show who we are deep down. One must redefine the meaning of success. Widening the conversation on this topic is essential. This is what we have done during six months, thanks to debates between personalities from different cultures and social backgrounds, at the Women’s Pavilion in Dubai, during Expo 2020 and greatly supported by Cartier. I remain optimistic, even though general cynicism has been a bit paralyzing to me lately. I am referring to cancel culture, the rewriting of history, social media violence. Politically correct is everywhere. But we should not stop to that, we should on the contrary value each initiative.

Nadine Labaki, a voice heard in Lebanon, has been fighting for years against the country's injustices (Shutterstock)

Creating emotion thanks to your art is a form of hope, deep truth is expressed. What kind of discourse do you want to give women?

Women must be able to speak up for violence to stop. Through their capacity to listen to themselves, they can show another truth. Power is not about proving strength or wealth. There are other ways to govern.

You are a public figure in Lebanon, your voice is heard. Do you own up to the fact that you are a powerful woman?

Yes, I own up to it. It is a responsibility, as speaking up can convey change. One must be at the service of one’s true purpose. In Lebanon, the political situation, the economic crisis and of course corruption don’t offer an easy environment to speak up, but we must do it. The Lebanese people suffer from injustice daily. Militating is risky. But you have to resist. That is why I did not leave Lebanon.

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