The prejudices of the Arabs are basically that they are billionaires, bombers and belly dancers. Images put to your mind by numerous stereotyping movies from Hollywood. That is the situation according to the first female film producer of the Emirates (UAE), Nayla al Khaja, who is about to change it.

Nayla al Khaja is a change maker. Brought up in Dubai, Nayla was not encouraged to be a filmmaker at all. She was taught to find a nice husband and a good education in Dubai, before thinking of anything else. A plan she fulfilled although her next step was rather unconventional.

After ending her education in Mass Communication from Dubai Women’s College in 1999 Nayla was eager to get abroad and with her father being a great film collector the inspiration to be a filmmaker was clear, although the way was close to impossible: She was asked to start at the prestigious film making program at Ryerson University in Canada in three months, but needed to find a husband and get married beforehand.

Nayla made it. The marriage was of convenience, but she had fulfilled the contract with her parents and could leave to be educated as a filmmaker in Canada.

Shortly, after getting her filmmaker education in 2005, she returned to tell the stories of UAE. In her childhood she had seen many stories told by Hollywood. Stories she loved and enjoyed, while she thought there were great stories to be told from the Gulf as well.

The massive cultural influence from the West has had an enormous effect on the Middle East. It has made what Nayla al Khaja describes as a “Western Syndrome”, where Arabs look up to people from the West with larger paychecks and a greater authority as results.

In the need for financial support for her first film production, Nayla took advantage of this knowledge. She hired a Western CEO-actor to participate in an important financial meeting, approving and nodding at the right times. The deal was settled and she managed to use the cultural prejudices to finance film production with the aim of changing these.

She has since been head of her independent film company D-SEVEN Motion Pictures, while she has worked on uniting artists from UAE and founded both The Scene Club and The AFLAM Film Club to strengthen independent movies in the area. But much more needs to be done.There is a whole environment that needs to be fostered.

“We definitely need more writers and producers from the region”, as Nayla says, having a hard time finding locals. The locals are needed to not just make a Hollywood in the Emirates: “We are not the new Allywood”, as she puts it.

The biggest task though is to create efficient distribution channels, with 90 percentage of the work being to get the message out. To take care of this Nayla is working on setting up the first private film fund of UAE, with 40 % Arabic and 60 % English language. A split which is made to enable the movies to go worldwide. “It will take decades, but that is how Lions Gate started with a small dream and look where they are today. I think we can do the same for the Middle East and UAE can be the film hub for that vision”, she says.

Bridging East and West is a founding principle in the work of Nayla al Khaja. She wants to show more of the Middle East than the Hollywood image of billionaires, bombers and belly dancers. Making movies is only one way to do this and there is according to Nayla especially two things we as individuals can do.

The first one is to see more films on independent film festivals around the globe. The second is to travel to the Middle East and experience the area yourself. Meet people in flesh and blood and humanize our prejudices of the area.

About The Author

Anders Møller
Lab Director

Anders is Lab Director and co-founder of Grasp. As a modern alchemist he uses the clash of philosophy and business as a disruptive force and is always collaborating on new mutations in the cross-breeding hereof. He is inspired by Nietzsche and Parkour, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and always equipped with a notebook.