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Hend Sabri on Being Discovered as a Teenager and the Perception of Arab Cinema with Manuel Arnaut

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On May 18, Cairo-based Tunisian actor Hend Sabri joined the Editor-in-Chief for a live chat on Instagram. The episode of our weekly series ‘Manuel Arnaut in Conversation With…’ saw Sabri and Arnaut dive into an engaging discussion on the actor starting her career as a teenager, and the Arab film industry, as fans and cinephiles watched from around the world. “It’s always a pleasure to be in contact with Vogue Arabia, its followers, and readers,” began Sabri. “I think it’s a magazine that is beyond fashion — it’s human. I have been following your work during the Covid-19 crisis and it’s been very empowering and real.”

Hend Sabri, The Silences of the Palace

Hend Sabri in The Silences of the Palace

While there is no doubt that the multi-hyphenate is an integral part of Arab cinema, having taken it to newer heights with her every achievement, the ensuing conversation only made it that much clearer. Arnaut remarked that this year marks the 26th anniversary of The Silences of the Palace, which is the first movie Sabri participated in and which straight away took her to the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. “This was quite a start for you at the tender age of 14,” said the editor, asking her what the experience was like. “It was a beautiful film that we made in Tunisia called The Silences of the Palace which was critically acclaimed and won the Camera d’Or in 1994 and it was my first film ever,” said Sabri as she went on to share just how she came to be cast in the film. “I was discovered in a wild casting. It wasn’t really meant to be. The director just saw me and she thought that I’d do good in front of a camera which I didn’t think so myself. So, I always say this industry or the movie industry chose me before I chose it.”

And now, two decades of iconic roles later, not only is Sabri invited as an esteemed guest to some of the world’s most prestigious events, but she has also made history as the first Arab actor to be part of the Venice Film Festival‘s jury. When asked how she feels to be on the flip side of the film festival, Sabri replied: “Extremely proud, extremely honored to be there. Venice [Film Festival] is not only the oldest festival, but it’s also, to me, the classiest film festival in the world.”

Hend Sabri

Hend Sabri photographed by Amr Ezzeldinn for Vogue Arabia

The editor and actor also discussed how the Arab film industry is perceived abroad. “There was a before and an after. I think that before what is called the Arab Spring, Arab cinema did not have an identity and we were not really good at marketing ourselves,” said Sabri.

She continued: “After 2011-2012, there was a new wave of young film directors in the Arab world who are really trying to be a generation of Arab filmmakers and to show the Arab world and its complexities. I think our presence is more and more appreciated internationally. Also, those big platforms [such as Netflix and Amazon] have no citizenship and don’t know borders — [for them] its not about the country you come from, its about the content. This is breaking the barriers between countries and cultures, and I think this is a great thing.”

A testament to this is the announcement of Sabri’s latest project in collaboration with the streaming giant Netflix in which she will not only star but also operate as the executive producer under her company Salam Productions. “It’s a first in the Arab world that Netlfix is actually signing with the leading star before having the content so, we’re developing it together which is, to me, a great, great opportunity,” shared the actor.

Watch the full conversation between Arnaut and Sabri above.

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