OP-ED

Family and Society Pose Obstacles for the Yemeni Actress

National Yemen

Amani al-Thamari

Asma al-Mohattwari

“When I walk in the street, I am supposed to wear the veil. Not because of the admiring looks of people, but because of the disrespectful glances I receive from the public.”

In her childhood, young Yemeni actress Amani al-Thamari’s only dream was to become an actress. She loved acting and singing, and she used to stand in front of the mirror to imitate actresses and recreate her favorite scenes. “When I was in school, I participated in all the art events. My hope of being actress grew with me and that ambition lived with me,” said Amani. As a child, Amani thought that it would be easy for her to become a famous actress because she was talented and loved acting. She didn’t realize that she was living in a conservative society that has a hard time accepting women as actresses.

Days have passed, and Amani is no more a child. She is now a beautiful young woman with a hope of being an actress. Amani was lucky because when she disclosed her desire, her mother stood with her and encouraged her to be what she wanted. But Amani soon learned—and was shocked by—the reality. Instead of being viewed with admiration, people looked at her with disdain and contempt. To avoid the hurtful comments, she was forced to wear the veil.  Amani did not give up and decided to prove her capabilities as an actress. She began in 2000 in radio with children programs. Then she moved to the cultural attaché in Taiz governorate and then she moved to Sana’a to continue her path in the theater and TV.

Insistence and determination achieved Amani’s dream. Now she is an actress not just on the Yemeni level, but on that of the Arab world. She has participated in numerous works outside of Yemen.

Amin Hazber, playwright and television director, said that Yemeni women who work in the field of culture, arts and acting are suffering a lot and are often stigmatized by the family or the society. He said that art, everywhere in the world, reflects the culture and stability of the country, but in Yemen we should admit that we still living in a tribal society.

“Anyone, not just the actress, fails to take his or her natural place if they didn’t follow mediation, tribe and social traditions,” Hazber said.

According to Hazber, it is not only the actress who face difficulties. Actors also sometimes fail to realize the important of acting and consider it something fun and entertaining. When Hazber decided to study T.V direction outside Yemen, he lied to his father that he would study engineering, “if I told him the truth he would refuse that, but now when he sees my work, because he understands more about art, he is proud of me.”

As a man, Hazber could do whatever he wanted even if his family prevented him. He would still be free, but Yemeni women face a host of problems and obstacles before her goal if she is approaching it without parental support. Amani says that she wants society to understand that acting is not a waste of time. Is is the craft, the work of an actor or actress, including those in theatre, television, film, or any other storytelling medium who tells a story reflecting some aspect of society.

“Women should participate more in drama to address all the issues of women and problems for the man cannot convey the massage as a woman,” Amani said.

Some studies said that most of the drama TV audiences are women; particular, the women that have no job. These TV aficionados watch, on average, seven to eight hours of old TV. So women may be the most affected of the stories in drama. Amani said that drama is able to answer all questions affecting the lives of women, such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my place? We have to imagine a broad impact on women through drama to tug on society as a whole.

Mr. Hazber said that in Yemen, people don’t care about art in general in all its types. “The lowest budget in Yemen is provided to the Ministry of Culture. And we became like one who digs in the desert.  We rely on the revolution and our belief that the future will be better and more beautiful.”

Mr. Hazber didn’t blame the Minister of Culture, because there is not sufficient support for the Ministry to reform the acting sector for the films issuance, holding festivals, bringing foreign experts and buying cameras.

Despite the marginalization suffered by Yemeni actors, actress and the art of acting, Yemenis still have ability and creativity. At the same time, they are also still waiting for help that may take them out the shell of marginalization and correct the incorrect evaluation of Yemenis actors and actress.

Mona Ali, another Yemeni actress, said that Yemeni drama can reach the highest levels of development only if the authorities take interest and care about acting in Yemen.” The easiest thing the authorities can do is to employ workers in the field of acting, since most of them are unfortunately without jobs to provide a living, protect them and push them toward greater creativity and sparkle.”

The presence of the Yemeni actress is noticeable in dramas, but this presence is not in the form required, as it is in Egyptian, Syrian and Gulf drama, due to the customs and traditions of Yemen.

“Education is the most important thing to develop the country, and I asked the Yemeni government to take care of the educated people who forget about everything and think only about how to make a living,” Hazber said.

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