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Ahd: International Star You Should Know

The single-monikered Saudi Arabian multihyphenate Ahd is a rarity: a film actress, director and producer in a country where movie theaters are banned

CLAIM TO FAME

Born in Jeddah and trained in New York, Ahd, 32, has been drawing notice internationally for her perf as a hypocritical hardline schoolmistress in
Haifaa al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,” the first feature from Saudi Arabia and a fest item that played at Tribeca before going out Stateside via Sony Classics. As a director, Ahd’s second short “Sanctity” was the first Saudi title to unspool at the recent Berlin Film Festival.

OVERCOMING SAUDI STIGMA

Being an actress in the Gulf is even bolder than being a female director. Ahd’s first role was playing a suicide bomber with second thoughts in Turkish helmer Aslihan Unaldi’s 2005 short “Razan,” for which Ahd won the Golden Gate Award for actress at the San Francisco Film Festival. She subsequently studied acting with William Esper in New York. Ahd produced her first short “The Shoemaker,” in which she plays opposite Egyptian star Amr Waked via her Odd Camel shingle. Before her big break in “Wadjda” she played a small part in U.K. filmmaker Zeina Durra’s feature “The Imperialists Are Still Alive,” a pic which opens with female nudity. Her dream role, she says, is to portray Mary Magdalene.

GROUNDBREAKER

Popular on Variety

“In the back of my mind, I was always thinking: ‘OK, I’m Saudi: How am I going to do this?’ ” Ahd recounts. “At first I thought people wouldn’t find out. But then I realized I had to come to terms with where I come from and how my family would take it.”

ROLE MODELS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Amr Waked. “I really learned a lot working with him.” As for directors, Ahd most wants to work with Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”) and Nadine Labaki (“Where Do We Go Now?”) “because they speak to universal audiences.”

ROLE MODELS OUTSIDE THE MIDDLE EAST

“Sean Penn is way up there for me. Acting, directing, whatever he’s doing. He’s definitely one of my biggest inspirations.”

TURN-OFFS

“I don’t like trendy. I don’t want to be put in a box. I want to be able to always reinvent myself.”

TESTIMONIAL

In a review of “Wadjda” last fall, Variety singled out her perf for praise. Ahd’s directorial talent has drawn notice in many Arab outlets, including the prominent Gulf daily The National, which wrote: “Ahd — along with al-Mansour — are two filmmakers helping to push boundaries and
break down barriers, while at the same time opening up a new window on life in a country not understood by much of the world.”

CHARITIES

Ahd is a co-chair of the Global Partnership for Women and Girls, through which she hopes to empower Muslim females around the world, bringing them in closer contact with the creative arts.

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