While attending MBC Group’s 30th anniversary earlier this month, well-known Lebanese TV presenter and celebrity journalist Raya Abirached shared with Ahram Online reflections on her joyful career at MBC working with those in front and behind the camera.
Abirached made her first steps in print and broadcast journalism working for Radio du Mont Liban and MTV in Beirut before moving to the UK in 1999, where she joined MBC, a pan-Arab media conglomerate.
She was then asked by MBC2 to host ‘Scoop with Raya’, a show that provides exclusive one-on-one interviews with international celebrities. The show has taken Abirached to many fascinating high-profile events, such as the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs, Grammys, and Brits, as well as festivals in Cannes, Berlin, and Venice.
Her first interview with an international star was with Meg Ryan; soon after, she interviewed Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Nicolas Cage, Michael Douglas, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, as well as musicians, such as Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Shakira.
She also met with famous athletes, such as sporting icons Luís Figo and Boris Becker.
“When I started my career in MBC, it was all unbelievable. Many people were surprised that we managed to get access to all those stars. In fact, some people even thought we were faking it, which was hilarious,” Raya comments to Ahram Online.
As Abirached grew within the group and within the cinema industry, she began shedding light on the Arab world, becoming the first ambassador of Arab artists and one of the best-known faces of the region.
According to Forbes, she ranks 92nd among the top 100 Arab celebrities.
“The public began understanding that I was establishing a steppingstone for the Arab world to reach Hollywood and many other international platforms,” she continues.
“Today, I am no longer the only one shedding light on regional talents; many new faces have joined this whole process, and this is a great phenomenon.”
Abirached reveals that even though communication with local artists was not always easy in the beginning, “with time, Arab filmmakers and other artists realised how the exposure given to them by the MBC Group added to the strength of their industry.”
“Not only was I a pioneer, but I have also become part of the industry’s incredible [evolution]. Today, many Arab filmmakers are eager to be featured in our programme, a fact which is undeniably paralleled by major changes taking place in the field itself. It all boils down to Arab cinema gaining a significant importance and visibility in the international arena.”
Raya Abirached interviews Dhaffer L'Abidine during the MBC celebrations of the Group's 30th anniversary (Photo: Ati Metwaly)
Indeed, the visibility of Arab filmmakers has led to numerous exciting developments for regional cinema and the people involved in it.
Numerous Arab actors — those based in their country of origin and those living outside the region — are becoming increasingly visible in international cinema alongside directors and scriptwriters joining production teams.
Names such as Egyptian actors Amr Waked and Khaled Nabawy; Egyptian-American actress Sandra Saad; Lebanese actors Sara Abi Kanaan, Peter Macdissi, and Nadine Labaki; Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud; Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir; and Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour are but a few names from a plethora of Arab talents making it big beyond the region.
Undeniably, apart from their captivating work, they also owe their presence to the field’s visibility, a fact which is achieved through numerous platforms, through the efforts of many production companies and media outlets, including MBC Group.
Now that MBC’s headquarters is being moved from Dubai to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Abirached might as well operate from new grounds.
“What has been great about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the film industry over the past few years is the fact that it has generated a lot of new opportunities for their local talents as well as artists from the Arab region and beyond.”
“Not only are Saudi productions multiplying and funds are being directed to many other regional cinema initiatives, providing the bread and butter for the industry’s growth, but the country is also inviting regional and international filmmakers to benefit from the new locations in Saudi Arabia,” Abirached says, referring to Al-Ula, a historical city in the Medina Region in north-western Saudi Arabia and “one of the most beautiful locations I have ever been to.”
Apart from shedding light on established and growing regional and international talents, Abirached is also involved in supporting youths.
Since its launch in 2011, Abirached — together with Saudi hip-hop artist Qusai Kheder — has been hosting ‘Arabs Got Talent’, the first of its kind entertainment show in the Arab region.
Arabs Got Talent has been broadcasted for six seasons, with the last one taking place in 2019 and airing on MBC1, MBC Iraq, MBC Masr, and Lebanese private television station Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International.
“I can’t wait for the new season. Sadly, we have to wait a bit, since the show has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is very difficult to proceed with such shows among all the precautionary restrictions that we are following,” Abirached says, adding that the show might not resume before the end of 2022.
“Arabs Got Talent allows young people from the region to express their talent. It also helps them understand the path they can take in their careers. It supports them in their dreams,” Abirached explains.
“The youth in the region are surrounded by many challenges, [such as] the situation in Syria, Lebanon, etc. Young people do not have the luxury of getting the same opportunities and conditions being provided to people in other corners of the world. I am proud and happy to be part of the show, as it has definitely nurtured their creative enthusiasm.”
With a thriving career dedicated to opening doors to many young people, Abirached is eager to share her insights on the personal development and choices that each young person can take within his or her own field.
“I run numerous workshops, so I have a chance to meet young people in person and discuss their plans and dreams. I always tell them that I made a lot of things possible because I pursued my own dream. I always had a passion for cinema; I was a journalist and TV presenter in the Arab world working in the field that I always loved.”
“My advice to everyone is to always follow your own passion. Don’t try to imitate; don’t try to be a new Raya Abirached or a new Qusai Kheder. Just be yourself; do what you like to do and pursue what you think fits you,” she says.
“It is also important to understand that media is not only about being on camera; there are so many people who work in this field and who are part of cinema and television magic; even if we do not see their faces,” she comments while trying to encourage young people to think about the variety of jobs available in media.
“We live in the era of social media, where everyone wants to be visible. It’s not about that. Work in this field is about following your passion and establishing your own career. It definitely includes a lot of work and dedication.”
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