It is hard to believe that there’s a Lebanese out there who doesn’t know who Nadine Labaky is… Mainly because this artist has made us proud too many times.
Being an actress, a director, and an activist, Nadine had many spectacular accomplishments since she first came into the spotlight in the early 2000s.
She is mostly famous for boldly and accurately capturing all aspects of Lebanese life. Labaki is unique among her fellow Lebanese and regional filmmakers in that she was not educated or trained abroad.
These are the great moments of Nadine Labaki’s remarkable journey in filmmaking, achievements, awards, activism, and recognitions.
#1 When she became the first Lebanese and Middle-Eastern female director to be nominated for an Oscar
Capernaum competed against four other movies and unfortunately, it didn’t win.
But it was still a great accomplishment for Nadine and for Lebanon since this was the second Lebanese movie ever to be nominated for the Oscars after Ziad Doueiry’s ‘The Insult’.
With this, Nadine Labaki became the first female director in the Middle East to be nominated for an Oscar.
#2 When her film 11 Rue Pasteur won the Best Short Film Award
This short film was Nadine’s final student project at Beirut’s St. Joseph University where she obtained a degree in audiovisual arts in 1997 and earned top prizes for her class projects.
11 Rue Pasteur got Nadine Labaki noticed abroad. It won the Best Short Film Award at the Biennale of Arab Cinema at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris) in 1998.
#3 When she defied all odds
In 1998, Nadine Labaki attended a workshop in acting at the Cours Florent in Paris and moved on to direct adverts and many music videos for renowned Middle Eastern singers.
She directed music videos for Nancy Ajram, Nawal Zoghby, Katia Harb, and Carole Samaha, among others
In 2003, Nadine was directing music videos for the famous Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram. The music video for “Akhasmak ah” sparked controversy due to the nudity presented and its sexually explicit dancing. It was seen as inappropriate and too evocative.
Labaki defended her script, stating that Ajram was actually portraying an “assertive and powerful female figure.”
In addition to “Akhasmak Ah”, Nadine directed the music videos for Ajram’s “Ya Salam,” “Lawn Ouyounak” and “Inta Eih.” The three videos were awarded the best music video honors.
Her work earned two back-to-back Murex D’Or “Best Video Clip Director of the Year” awards.
#4 When she directed and played a leading role in Caramel
The year 2007 is when Nadine’s film Caramel first saw light. The movie premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes 2007 Film Festival.
Nadine wrote Caramel, her first feature film, in 2005 when she took part in the Cannes Film Festival Residence for 6 months.
The story focuses on the lives of five Lebanese women dealing with issues such as forbidden love, binding traditions, repressed sexuality, the struggle to accept the natural process of age, and duty versus desire.
It was a commercial success and it sold worldwide and collected prizes at many festivals around the world.
#5 When she was named on “Variety’s 10 Directors To Watch” list
After Caramel, Nadine Labaki was cited in the “Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch” list at the Sundance Film Festival.
Variety announces its annual ’10 Directors to Watch’ that includes talents who’ve stood out on the recent festival circuit, or whose movies will soon be hitting screens in the coming year.
It includes directors with roots on five continents, spanning a range of styles, genres, and languages, where the common element is the strength and originality of their respective voices.
#6 When she was honored by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication
In 2008, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication honored Labaki with the Insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters.
The Order of Arts and Letters is an Order of France established on May 2nd, 1957, by the Minister of Culture. Its purpose is the recognition of significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.
#7 When she proved that she’s a hard-working genius
In 2010, Labaki directed and starred in her second feature film, Where Do We Go Now? She came with the idea of this movie when she was pregnant with her son in 2008.
The film is about a group of Lebanese women trying to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village in order to protect their sons and husbands.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category in 2011 and won the Cadillac people’s choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It also collected many other awards in festivals around the world, like Cannes Film Festival, San Sebastián International Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Doha Tribeca Film Festival.
The film was also nominated for the best foreign film at the Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles.
During its opening weekend, the film hit the largest ever admissions total for an Arabic-speaking film in Lebanon, amounting to 21,475 admissions for a total of $153,358.
Following the success of Nadine’s masterpiece, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) signed Labaki in all areas, but she continues to be represented in France by Art Media Agency.
Her movie was nominated in the foreign-language Oscars category, which was a first for a female director in 2019. At the Cannes Film Festival, it earned a massive 15-minute standing ovation, and it earned Labaki the attention of Oprah who hosted her in her house.
It also was the first Lebanese film ever to be nominated for a Golden Globe.
#9 When her humanity stole the spotlight
Nadine’s films mostly include non-professional actors.
The lead child actor in Capernaum, Zain Al Rafeea, is a Syrian refugee who was found in one of the slums playing with friends. The same is also true for Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?
Labaki once stated that “normal people deserve to be on the big screen.”
“I like to have the impression that whatever is happening is true,” she says.
In collaboration with the UNHCR and UNICEF, Zain Al Rafeea and his family have been resettled in Norway. He and his siblings are attending school for the first time in their lives with the hope of regaining their childhoods and have a good future. This, says Labaki, is her greatest reward.
In 2014, Labaki was the goodwill ambassador for the bilingual and multimedia campaign produced by The Brave Heart Fund (BHF).
She directed and appeared in a TV infomercial ‘This is not a film. This is reality.’ produced as part of Brave Heart’s Congenital Heart Disease awareness campaign.
Her movies’ themes all deal with topics of social and humanitarian causes, like poverty, feminism, social inequality, marginalized communities, and so on, and she does that in order to raise awareness on these issues.
#10 When she participated in other artists’ accomplishments
During the early 2000s, Nadine was acting in several movies like “Bosta” (2006), a Lebanese musical comedy that was a box office success, outgrossing “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
She starred in Zeina Durra’s The Seventh Dog. The work won the audience award at the Circuito Off Venice International Short Film Festival in 2006. She also starred in several Lebanese films by other directors.
Nadine starred in Fox International’s “Mea Culpa” (2014) and in “La Rançon De La Gloire” (2014) directed by acclaimed French director Xavier Beauvois.
She has been also on the jury of several prestigious film festivals.
She was on the jury of the latest Cannes Film Festival 2015 in the “Certain Regard” category, and for the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, Sundance Film Festival in 2013, Venice Film Festival in 2012 (where she was also nominated for the Gucci Women in Film Award), Belgium’s Namur Film Festival (where she was Jury President), and San Sebastian Film Festival.
#11 When she aspired to create a positive change
Nadine Labaki was a candidate on the list of a new political movement in Lebanon, Beirut Madinati, for the capital’s May 2016 local election.
This focuses on social justice and the good of the public utilizing a diverse group of citizens as representatives.
Despite achieving about 40% of the popular vote, the movement lost against its opponent, the ‘Beirutis’ list’ supported by Saad El-Hariri.
#12 When she inspired and represented all Middle-Eastern women/mothers
In addition to being a great human being and an achieved director/actress, Nadine is also married to Lebanese music composer, songwriter, and producer Khaled Mouzanar and has two children.
In 2009, Nadine Labaki gave birth to her first boy, Walid. In 2016, she gave birth to a daughter, Mayroun.
Preparing for motherhood, she began to ponder what extreme lengths mothers would go to prevent their sons from obtaining arms and taking to the streets to fight. And thus, the director came with the idea for her film: Where Do We Go Now?
Nadine is also known for dealing with feminism in almost all of her work. Directing Nancy Ajram’s music videos, Labaki worked to redefine the image of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern women.
#13 When she delivered a revolutionary speech after receiving the 2019 Issam M. Fares Award for Excellence
Nadine Labaki received the 2019 Issam M. Fares Award for Excellence at MEI’s 73rd Annual Awards Gala on November 12 in Washington, DC. Her speech addressed and praised the Lebanese Revolution. Her most memorable quotes were:
“I’ve never seen so much hope, so many debates, so much art, so many brilliant ideas and minds, so much dancing and chanting, so much resilience, so much talent, so much sense of belonging, so much unity than in the past 30 days.”
“If you ask me who’s leading Lebanon today, I tell you it’s the people, not the politicians, not with violence not with hate but with a great sense of citizenship and peaceful resistance, the most beautiful kind of resistance.”
At the end of her heart-warming speech, she asked the audience to make noise with their forks and plates, because this is what the Lebanese revolutionaries were doing every night at 8 pm.
#14 When she was a regular protester during Lebanon’s 17 October revolution
Nadine Labaki made several appearances among protesters during the Lebanese revolution.
She also mentioned that she was among women separating the police and the protesters in order to prevent clashes.
Most recently, Nadine collaborated with her husband and various public figures in Lebanon to motivate people to revert to the land and plant for self-sustenance.
Inspired by her husband, and based on a song he wrote from the soundtrack of her successful film Where Do We Go Now, she has been campaigning with a video-clip promoting and encouraging the agriculture movement in Lebanon.
Before this visit, Oprah had complimented Capernaum in a post that said: “These 2 are so compelling on screen and worthy of your time. Story of a young boy who sues his parents for having children they can’t take care of. It makes you think of all the children for whom this story is a daily reality. Bravo team Capernaum.”
In another post, Oprah said that she couldn’t stop thinking about the movie.