Manal Awad: Palestinian actress shares journey from resistance to acclaim

(Photos: Handouts from Manal Awad)
Over the course of her career, Palestinian actress Manal Awad has fought an uphill battle against the shackles of the occupation, gender stereotypes and most recently, COVID-19, hoping to use her gift to bring light to the ongoing suffering her people. اضافة اعلان

Awad started acting in elementary school, finding herself drawn to the silver screen. Later on, she started appearing in local products and school plays. She studied acting at the Institution Superior D'Art Dramatiuqe, Tunisia. Then went on to do her master’s in theater, with a focus on directing, at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

When Awad chose to major in theater, her parents told her to take acting up acting as a hobby, not career, instead encouraging her to study something “more practical” like business. “But simply acting as a hobby was not enough for me,” she explained in an interview with Jordan News.  

Awad soon realized that acting is time-consuming and fit into her life better as a full-time job than a side gig.

“It is a feeling that you get that you need to do what you want,” she said.

Her parents still insisted that “acting doesn't have a future.”

Awad finished school before the rise of social media, options were few and so she resorted to acting in plays about political issues.

“The world wasn't open as it is now.  People loved theater, but they still thought it wasn't a way to make a living," Awad explained.  

“In Palestine, acting opportunities are limited because we are a closed country,” Awad said.

Throughout her decades-long career, the occupation has stood in the way of Awad’s growth as it continues to do with most thespians, producers and filmmakers who cannot get in touch, let alone work together due to movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.

“It (the occupation is making Palestine’s situation more difficult and setting limitations for local productions," the actress said.  

Awad has tried filming in Jordan and Palestine, and in her experience, actors in Palestine have to put in greater effort into their work to make sure it succeeds. Whereas in Jordan, the cast’s wardrobe and script are prepared and set by professionals, in Palestine, they have to prepare everything on their own; from deciding what their character wears to writing the script.

"It puts great pressure on us. In Jordan, it is easier,” she said.

The thespian has also had to push back against gender stereotypes, like the assumption that women need to prioritize a domestic life over their careers.

“It is hard for our culture to accept  that women could choose their careers over their lives at home,” she said. "Yes, the world has changed a bit now, but it still isn't fully changed."

Awad also emphasized the importance of incorporating activism and political commentary into her work. Her career started with works that dealt with the occupation Palestine, a theme, which still appears in many of her films and shows.

The Palestinian-Jordanian show Watan Ala Watar in which she starred used a satirical lens to discuss politics.

“An artist should always support their country, and their voices will be heard because many of them who are well-known and can get their message straight to people,” Awad said. "You can even spread awareness about Palestinian through your social media, it doesn't have to be through your work or shows."

Due to COVID-19, the film industry, like most others, has been forced to take hiatus. As a freelance actor, Awad found that she had become accustomed to not working at times.

Awad was working on a film called “Salon Huda” with the Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad when the pandemic started. Despite the pause in production, the team did wrap up the film, which will debut towards the end of 2021.

"If you have passion for something, be patient. This is not an easy path. It is a career that needs sacrifice, and if you are patient, it will pay off," Awad said.

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