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Meet The First Saudi Actor to Land a Major Netflix Role

Courtesy of Ahd Kamel

You may want to get familiar with Ahd Kamel, as chances are you’ll be seeing a lot more of her very soon. The 36-year-old is the first female Saudi actor to land a major role in a Netflix series.

Jeddah-born Kamel will play the role of a Muslim refugee named Fatma in the new series Collateral, set to premiere early next year. The show revolves around the mysterious shooting of a pizza delivery man in London. Kamel stars alongside Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan and actors John Simm, Billie Piper, and July Namir.

Kamel, who received a directing degree from The New York Film Academy, has captivated audiences with her previous projects, including her role as Ms Hussa in 2012’s critically acclaimed Saudi film Wadjda. Her debut movie, 2009’s The Shoemaker, which she wrote, directed, and starred in, was named ‘Best Short Film’ at the Beirut International Film Festival, took home second prize at Dubai’s Gulf Film Festival and received a special jury mention at the Arab Film Festival of Oran in Algeria in 2010. Additionally, in 2006, her acting debut in Razan won Kamel the ‘Best Actress Award’ at San Francisco’s International Film Festival.

Courtesy of Ahd Kamel

Kamel is one of a new wave of Saudi women making great strides in their respective fields. Recently, Raha Moharrak – the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest – was named as a brand ambassador for luxury Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer. News of Moharrak‘s new role was announced just days before The Kingdom issued a historic royal decree that will allow women in Saudi to drive from next year. The move came after years of campaigning by activists, including Manal Masoul al-Sharif, who kickstarted the women’s right to drive campaign in 2011.

We speak to Kamel about her new role, why Muslim representation is important in the mainstream media, and her favorite movie of all time.

How did you land your role in Collateral?
“I initially auditioned for a smaller part and was very pleasantly surprised when they called a week later to let me know they wanted to see me for Fatma, who plays a bigger part in the series. I read for the part and immediately connected with the character as well as SJ Clarkson, the director, and Sir David Hare, the writer, who were both in the room. You can say it was a match made in heaven.”

Do you share any real-life similarities with Fatma?
“I can’t share too much without giving away elements of the story, but she’s a strong Muslim woman who’s living as a refugee in London. We’re very similar in that we’re both survivors and fighters, not victims.”

What is it like to play a hijab-wearing character?
“Most of the characters I play wear the hijab, but it’s simply an accessory to the character. When I play a character, I approach it from the inside. What do they love? What do they hate? What causes them pain? In that realm we are all the same. All of us are humans and the hijab is a choice, an outer layer.”

Courtesy of Ahd Kamel

Why is representation of hijab-wearing women in the mainstream media important?
“Because it will reveal the woman and human behind the veil. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes, and by leading by example and using these platforms to showcase ourselves we begin to shatter theses notions.”

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
“Believing in myself. Like many artists, I doubted myself endlessly and still continue to do so at times. Embracing myself fully and wholly I believe was the greatest challenge.”

What has been your favorite movie from the last year?
“The Handmaiden.”

How about your favorite movie and character of all time?

“There are so many, but Cinema Paradiso is one that I can recite by heart. I can’t single out one character! It’s too hard!”

What’s your dream role?
“Mary Magdalene.”

Which director would you most like to work with?
“I’d love to work with SJ Clarkson again. She’s just a dream director who appreciates her actors and everyone on set. She’s versatile and I’m just in awe of all she’s done.”

If you didn’t work in the film industry, what would you be doing?
“Dancing, singing, or taking a total 180 degree turn into cosmology and astrophysics.”

Which actors do you look up to?
“There are plenty, but if I had to choose one I would say Cate Blanchett. I admire her talent, femininity, strength, courage, and career choices – just everything. She’s the epitome of grace.”

You’re also a filmmaker. What has been your most important project and why?
“The most important project has been my feature film, My Driver and I. It’s a coming of age story about a girl and her driver and it is based on my paternal relationship growing up with my driver, Mohi. He was with me for most of my life – from when I was a child, to when I lost my parents as a teenager, until 2005. This film is a homage to him, a humble way to show my gratitude to a man who drove me in a car but, ultimately, taught me how to drive the wheel of my own life.”

Do you have any exciting new projects lined up that you can tell us about?
“There are a few things in the pipeline, but I’m really looking forward to the premiere of Collateral in early 2018.”

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