#42: What didn't make it into my GQ profile on Noor Tagouri
Plus, Nadia Emam on MENA+ Arts UK, the Britney Spears doc, and more...
Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a weekly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Each week, there’s some thoughts from me, along with a guest piece and recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.
This week, my profile on Noor Tagouri was published as the digital cover story for GQ Middle East. It was my first ever cover story, and my first time writing for the publication, and it was also one of my favourite interviews I’ve ever had with anybody.
Noor is a Libyan-American award-winning journalist and producer, and she was such a balm to speak with. Her dedication to her craft and her integrity and authenticity as a storyteller was so inspiring to me, and I learnt a lot throughout the course of our conversation. Judging by the responses to the profile, many of you find her just as great as I do. So, I thought I’d share some of the bits of our chat that stuck with me and that *didn’t* make it into the piece…
Noor on fear and procrastination:
“It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to get done. There's no such thing as writers block, writers block is literally just you manifesting your insecurity and saying ‘I'm afraid that what I'm going to put on paper is not going to be perfect, therefore I can't put it down.’ That’s not how it works, you have to do that so you can get to the stuff you want to keep.”
Noor on letting the story do its job:
“Maybe I used to be a perfectionist but never truly. Because my entire life, I have always worked through my intuition. I just always believed that however it came about, however it ended up, was what it was meant to end up as; it would be delivered. And not because you try any less, but because you truly put yourself in it and you trust the work and you trust that the work will do itself. I've always wanted my work to be great but I care more about being intention-oriented than a perfectionist. For instance, when I'm working on an edit of a story, I don't need this little tiny thing to be at this angle because my eye sees that, it just has to be what is the intention behind every scene? I think that makes it a lot easier because then you separate yourself from the story and you let the story do its job.”
Noor on telling stories about communities:
“I think we need to work on our community building and we also need to amplify storytellers who are sharing the stories of their communities because they're the best ones to do it… It makes them smarter and more connected to the story and [able to] tell it more wholesomely. That doesn't mean that I'm saying you have to be a Muslim person to cover the Muslim community, but if you're going to write a story that's going to impact them, then you need to spend time building trust with them… I've always asked myself before I go into a story – how is the way that I cover this going to impact the person or the community I'm talking about? It is on the forefront of my mind to make sure that they do not get hurt by my storytelling, because I know what that's done for us.”
Noor on identity crises and the next generation:
“Even though [my parents] let me be who I wanted to be, they’re [now realising that they] weren't vocal enough... They didn't know how deep the identity crisis was; they didn't know what to ask [or] what to say… I'm lucky that I went through that so – inshallah – if I ever have kids, I'll know that. I think every generation has their test and their struggle. The first gen, second gen immigrant kids in this country, our struggle is getting through that hoop and making it to the other end so that we teach our kids otherwise, so that we embrace our bicultural identity and we teach our kids you are this AND this, and that being one does not make you less of the other.”
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Nadia Emam, 32, Sheffield, UK
When I was growing up, I didn’t have a community. Being an Arab in a remote, Northern seaside town was an extremely isolating experience. The demographic of my hometown is 98% White British, it’s a Conservative stronghold and very resistant to change. It follows then that growing up, I was confused about who I was and who I was supposed to be; that I often wished all of the elements that made me different would disappear.
Sometimes I wonder who I might have become if I had that sense of community: people I could relate to, who looked like me or understood how it feels to be both and neither. Maybe, if I’d had that, I wouldn’t have felt so misunderstood and alien to my own identity.
Or maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
At the end of last year, I stumbled across MENA+ Arts UK; a new organisation for artists connected to the Middle East, North Africa and surrounding areas. They have a growing database of people from all walks of life, with multiple disciplines, creative skillsets, languages and backgrounds. It was an exciting discovery, and I’ve been so enjoying being a part of the team.
So far, the platform’s directory of artists has almost 200 members. It screams out to the industry ‘We are here!’. The truth is, for too long there has been a generalised, often negative representation of people from MENA+ backgrounds in the stories that are being told on our stages and screens. We are forced into stereotypes, neglected or misrepresented. Middle Eastern women are amongst the most invisible groups of people on our television screens. The situation is bleak.
When it comes to this, MENA+ Arts UK are a driving force of change. The steering group is made up of a small pool of artists who are figuring out how to make this new organisation into a supportive network, one where everyone can join the conversation. In the months since the launch, our online events have been incredibly well-attended, providing a space for much needed discussions on topics such as representation and identity, as well as opportunities to hear from successful fellows in the creative sectors, people like Sally El Hosaini, Sabrina Mahfouz and Farah Abushwesha.
Perhaps it is the world standing still that has motivated this leap into urgent action; a growing network sparking important conversations, raising awareness to the issues of representation and actually doing something about it.
The network is steadily growing, and there are some very exciting events in the pipeline, including 8 commissioned short films and a series of Friday Hangouts online which feature a star-studded line-up. Slowly but surely, it feels like change is on the horizon. Now more than ever the time for MENA+ artists and authentic stories feels vitally important.
In 2020, I received the news that my short film had been awarded BFI NETWORK funding and so we are going into production this year. I feel very fortunate to be able to bring my story to life, especially now that I have finally found a community to cheer me on.
Nadia is a director and poet based in Sheffield working in film and theatre and is part of the steering team for MENA+ Arts UK. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram. Find out more about MENA+ Arts UK here, and follow them here.
If you identify as a Middle Eastern woman and would like to contribute a guest piece to The Greater Conversation, please email me. You can share anonymously too if you prefer.
This newsletter is sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. The narrative I want to share this week is: Why I Won't Take an Ancestry DNA Test
I haven’t taken one myself, but I know many people who have, including my father. The results can be illuminating and I’ve often spoken about how if everyone in the world took one, perhaps then we would all see how truly interconnected we all are, that divisions and hierarchies based on a thing as tenuous as ethnicity would be broken down. This narrative, by a multiracial woman, speaks to the fact that her true heritage cannot be deciphered by simply sending off her saliva to a lab, that we can’t trust science to define who we are. Of course, she’s not wrong, and it’s an interesting read.
Book: Ta-Nehisi Coates is just phenomenal. Last year, I read his brilliant non-fiction works Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power and I couldn’t recommend them more. I’ve just finished reading his latest offering, the fictional masterpiece that is The Water Dancer and I am enthralled and in awe.
Newsletter: This week, Britney Spears has been trending due to a new documentary looking into her career and the court battle with her father. In the latest edition of Friday Things, the incisive Stacy Lee Kong provides important and enraging commentary on the ways in which the media, and journalists, have aided and abetted.
Podcast: Comedian and YouTuber Lilly Singh joined Jay Shetta on his podcast On Purpose and it was a super engaging listen. My favourite thing was that Lilly is very militant about her personal and professional growth, as am I, so it made me feel very seen and less intense.
Watch: I loved I’m Your Woman on Amazon Prime, a 1970s crime drama in which a woman is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. It’s not often we see these sorts of stories from the woman’s point of view.
Cosmetic surgery is booming during the pandemic. Related, influencers have been told not to use ‘misleading’ beauty filters, something I’m veeery happy about following the column I wrote for Restless a couple of months back all about how filters are giving me face dysmorphia.
It’s okay to complain about how much we’ve lost because of Covid-19, and those that attack those complaining are "making someone’s already bleak lockdown experience bleaker still."
Will we ever evolve out of social media?
An interview with Roisin Tapponi, the founder of Habibi Collective, on bringing indie movies to the Middle East and its diaspora.
"One of my friends started dating a man she’d met in a supermarket… It was when she told me how they’d met that I realised, bittersweetly, that the odds of something like that ever happening to me, given all the criteria I needed to fulfil, were so slim they were nonexistent." Destined for an arranged marriage, I chose to follow my heart, writes Huma Qureshi.
As mentioned above, this week, my profile with Noor Tagouri for GQ Middle East was released as its February digital cover story. Have a read :)
A quote from a book you should read:
“I guess it’s true what they say: if you wait long enough everything changes.” - This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz.
Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.
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