The star of “Aladdin,” Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, called for a greater diversity of storytelling in movies and television when he spoke at the glamorous opening ceremony Thursday of the 3rd edition of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival.
Massoud, whose credits include Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Hulu’s “Reprisal,” lauded “the power of art” to change society.
“As artists we have an extraordinary and rare privilege to tell the stories of our people, our land, our culture. They grip us, tear us apart, and put us back together. We are our stories.
“When I was growing up [in Canada] I never really saw people that looked like me on the big screen, and that made me feel like I didn’t belong there, and there wasn’t room for my story.”
He added: “When we represent all cultures with sensitivity and truth, we foster a society that supports all people. When we uplift artists who reflect diverse perspectives their stories not only tell us how people view others, but how they view themselves.”
Massoud spoke about the work of his charity Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation, and presented its inaugural EDA International Artist in Motion Award to Moroccan actress Nisrin Erradi, who starred in Cannes film “Adam.” The award was “designed to honor an ethnically diverse artist who has demonstrated exceptional talent, ambition and promise in the film industry,” he said.
Massoud said he had been “inspired” by watching films from the Middle East and North Africa while assessing the merits of the candidates for the award, and “fell in love” with “Adam,” a multigenerational tale about three North African women.
“All at once it portrayed the grace and strength, the dedication, community and vulnerability that women of this region embody, and reminded me of my mother and sisters and the love and assertiveness with which they raised me. This film makes me proud to say that I am the son of a North African woman,” he said.
During the opening ceremony, the Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri, whose credits include “3000 Nights,” received the festival’s Career Achievement Award, which was given to her by fellow Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad.
Among the artists performing at the ceremony were Lebanese dance troupe Mayyas, winners of this year’s “Arabs Got Talent” competition, and Syrian-Swedish singer Faia Younan.
El Gouna Film Festival, led by festival director Intishal Al Timimi and CEO Amr Mansi, opened with a screening of “Ad Astra,” and runs to Sept. 27.
The Arabic films in competition include Oualid Mouaness’ “1982” (Lebanon), Maryam Touzani’s “Adam” (Morocco), Noura Hinde Boujemaa’s “Noura’s Dream” (Tunisia), Mounia Meddour’s “Papicha” (Algeria), and Amjad Abu Alala’s “You Will Die at Twenty” (Sudan).