Art and Film Making in Saudi Arabia with Hisham Fageeh
Institute for Middle East Studies
Fageeh steadfastly straddles both American and Middle Eastern audiences. His professional trajectory began in 2011 when he started performing stand-up while working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. A few months later he went on to receive a Master’s at Columbia University, while also studying improvisational comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCBT). This curiosity, with a specific interest in merging the ephemeral with the comedic landscape of early YouTube, led him to make a web series (ماشه تایعوبسا – Translated: Hisham’s Weeklies) which propelled him into an Arabic stand-up scene in Saudi Arabia.
In the Middle East, he’s most known for his video “No Woman, No Drive,” which went viral in 2013. The video remains a hilarious satire on the debates over whether or not Saudi Arabia would let women drive (they eventually did in 2018), and Fageeh’s video was a momentous critical injection. This is part of his pointed charm, Fageeh uses comedy to highlight social issues, by turning them on their head. Using comedic tools, Fageeh questions cultural norms, even the most ubiquitous ones.
For acting, he rose to international acclaim when he co-produced and starred in Saudi Arabia’s submission to the Oscars ‘Best Foreign Film’ of 2016, Barakah Meets Barakah. For his role, he was nominated for a Best Actor Award at the Arab Cinema Awards in Cannes, and the film premiered at the Forum section of the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, winning the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlinale. In North America, the film premiered at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres and at the 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival. It made history in 2017, when Netflix bought the distribution rights to the film, making it the first Saudi film to display on the streaming service.
Hisham Fageeh is a Saudi-American actor, writer and producer. His work has been written about by The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, BBC, Variety, among others.