How Kaouther Ben Hania Breaks Barriers as the First Arab Woman with Two Oscar Nominations
Kaouther Ben Hania, a Tunisian director and screenwriter, has made history as the first Arab woman to receive two Oscar nominations in her career. Her latest film, Four Daughters, a docu-fiction hybrid about a mother whose daughters join ISIS, has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2024 Academy Awards.
Her previous film, The Man Who Sold His Skin, a satire about a Syrian refugee who becomes a living artwork, was nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars. Ben Hania’s achievements have broken barriers and stereotypes for female Arab filmmakers, and have showcased the diversity and creativity of Arab cinema.
What are the themes and styles of Ben Hania’s films?
Ben Hania’s films are known for their bold and original themes and styles, which explore the social and political issues of the Arab world, such as human rights, identity, migration, and extremism. Ben Hania’s films also challenge the conventions and expectations of the film industry, by blending different genres and formats, such as documentary, fiction, comedy, and drama.
Some of the examples of Ben Hania’s films are:
- Four Daughters: The film is based on the true story of Olfa Hamrouni, a Tunisian mother who tries to find and rescue her two eldest daughters, who have been radicalized and recruited by ISIS. The film combines documentary footage of the real mother and her family, with fictional scenes of the daughters’ experiences in Libya and Syria, played by actors. The film also features the Tunisian star Hend Sabri, who plays herself as a friend and confidante of the mother.
- The Man Who Sold His Skin: The film is inspired by the real-life case of Wim Delvoye, a Belgian artist who tattooed a man’s back and sold it as a canvas. The film tells the story of Sam Ali, a Syrian refugee who agrees to have his back tattooed by a famous artist, in exchange for a visa to Europe and a reunion with his lover. The film explores the themes of freedom, dignity, and exploitation, and criticizes the hypocrisy and injustice of the global system.
- Beauty and the Dogs: The film is based on the real-life case of Meriem Ben Mohamed, a Tunisian woman who was raped by police officers and faced obstacles and harassment in seeking justice. The film follows the ordeal of Mariam, a young student who is raped by two policemen after attending a party, and who tries to file a complaint with the help of a male friend. The film is divided into nine long takes, each corresponding to a chapter of the night, and depicts the violence and corruption of the Tunisian society.
What are the impacts and challenges of Ben Hania’s films?
Ben Hania’s films have had significant impacts and challenges, both in the Arab world and internationally, such as:
Ben Hania’s films have received critical acclaim and recognition from various film festivals and awards, such as Cannes, Venice, Toronto, and the Oscars. Ben Hania’s films have also reached a wide and diverse audience, and have raised awareness and empathy for the stories and struggles of the Arab people, especially women. Ben Hania’s films have also inspired and empowered other female Arab filmmakers, and have contributed to the development and diversity of Arab cinema.
Ben Hania’s films have also faced difficulties and obstacles, such as censorship, controversy, and backlash, from some authorities and segments of the society, who have opposed or rejected her films’ messages and representations. Ben Hania’s films have also encountered challenges in finding funding, distribution, and exposure, due to the limited and competitive market and industry of the Arab cinema. Ben Hania’s films have also had to overcome the stereotypes and prejudices that the Arab cinema and culture face in the international arena.