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One-on-one with the creator of Netflix’s new Arabic original “AlRawabi School for Girls”

DUBAI: Tima Shomali has spent the past 10 years telling the perspective of contemporary Arab women, using humor to talk about the issues facing women in the Middle East. Now, on the grandest stage of all, the Jordanian actress and writer takes audiences into the world of the region’s teenage girls, with a portrayal as sharp and honest as ever.

The show is “AlRawabi School for Girls”, Netflix’s second original Arabic series, and with it, Shomali not only shines a light on parts of young women’s lives that have previously been kept in the dark, but also proves that once that light shines, each of these issues is more universal than you might think.

“It was important for me to tell the story of these young girls, because I felt like we hadn’t seen it in depth,” Shomali told Arab News. “This age group has so many stories, and their secrets, their insecurities, their relationships, their loves, have always been a mystery. I wanted to give a little insight into social issues like cyberbullying, the divide between families and their daughters, and the divide in social conversation more broadly.

Tima Shomali (fourth from left) on the set of “AlRawabi School for Girls,” which airs August 12. (Netflix)

“AlRawabi School for Girls,” which begins airing August 12, tells the story of a group of girls who are bullied by their school’s Regina George equivalent of “Mean Girls.” Instead of simply accepting their fate, they decide to hatch a plot of revenge, told with both light wit and dramatic weight.

In addition to the show’s young cast – featuring Andria Tayeh, Noor Taher, Joanna Arida and Yara Mustafa – ride-or-die collaborator and close friend of Shomali, Rakeen Saad, who plays Noaf, is also from the part.

For Saad, who previously starred in Shomali’s TV series and viral YouTube hit “FemaleShow” from 2013 to 2016, what made the show unique wasn’t just its attempt to get into the minds of young people. Arab women, but to do so with mostly women behind the camera.

Rakken Saad (right) in “AlRawabi School for Girls.” (Netflix)

“No matter where you’re from, we’re all human and we go through more or less the same struggles. The picture on the outside may be different, the circumstances we live in may be different, but at the end of the day, in our hearts, we are all saying the same things,” Saad says.

“The characters’ struggles and their sanity journeys are so powerful. It’s a really nice show, because for me as an actor, the female characters in the show are written by a woman, and the crew was mostly women. We really bring our voice to the world.

For Shomali, it was no coincidence. The show had to avoid the male perspective on femininity ringing true.

Shomali not only sheds light on aspects of young women’s lives that were previously kept in the dark, but also proves that once that light shines, each of these issues is more universal than you might think. (Netflix)

“Usually female characters are portrayed from the perspective of how a man sees these women. The difference in this show is that it’s written by a woman, with the eyes of a woman, telling stories of young And in every department – ​​from cinematography to production design, from character to costumes – each of these women (brought) their own touch, to tell the story of these young women,” says Shomali.

Such attention to detail is a signature of Shomali’s work and – along with her focus on collaboration – is something that has always impressed Saad about her close friend.

“What I love about Tima is that she’s so into the details. When we talk about the character, the background, we sit down and do a lot of rehearsals, and then I come up with my ideas And then she has a really good idea, whether it’s character-wise or look-wise,” says Saad.

Shomali has established herself as a regional voice speaking directly to young women, striving to empower them even in the most uncomfortable situations.

The Jordanian actress and writer takes audiences into the world of the region’s teenage girls, with a portrayal as sharp and honest as we’ve ever seen. (Netflix)

“My goal is to get girls to stand up and speak up, because (we) are taught to be quiet… All I want is for girls to stand up and speak up, because if we keep ignoring things, they will keep happening,” Shomali said six years ago at the Global Women’s Summit.

But the issues the show explores are universal for women around the world. For Shomali, this was the most eye-opening part of his preparations to write the show.

“I sat down with I don’t know how many girls from very different backgrounds, from very different cultures. Throughout this research, I noticed one thing: no matter where you come from, no matter what your background, the struggles are the same for girls,” says Shomali.

This, she says, is why the show is well-suited to Netflix and the 190 countries it reaches. It’s planned to be broadcast in 32 languages, and it’s not just made for young women in the Arab world, it’s made for a young woman on the other side of the planet to stumble upon and visit. realizes that she is not alone, that a young A woman in Amman is also trying to hatch a plan to get revenge on her online tormentors.

Shomali on set with the team. (Netflix)

“My hope for this show to go from a local audience to an international audience, because really the struggle of girls at those ages, no matter where we are from, is the same. I hope someone from Saudi Arabia or from Jordan relates to one character, and another from Brazil or the United States relates to another character,” Shomali explains.

Shomali’s smash hit was 2011’s “Bath Bayakha,” which used comedy to address social issues in the Arab world, with a particular focus on young women. Thanks to her rise to shows such as “Nida’a Show,” “Zain,” and “FemaleShow,” her signature work, she may not have talked about it, but Shomali has always quietly dreamed that she would be able to do a show like “AlRawabi School for Girls” – a premium series made for a global platform.

The show could change Shomali’s life forever, and she knows it, whether she admits it or not.

“We worked together on many projects, but this one was very different,” Saad explains. “I know it was a dream for her. And she was working so hard on it.

In a candid moment with Arab News, Saad turns to Shomali and says how aware she is of what this moment means to her and her friend.

“I’m really, really proud of you,” Saad told Shomali. “That you finally did this. You are a hard worker. And you’ve worked so hard on your scripts, both before and now. And you want to do something different. And you are so talented. You finally did it.

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