Nadine Labaki

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Nadine Labaki
Nadine Labaki by Matteo Chinellato (cropped).jpg
Labaki in 2012
Native name
نادين لبكي
Nadine Antoine Labaki

(1974-02-18) February 18, 1974 (age 45)
OccupationActress, director
Years active1997–present
Spouse(s)Khaled Mouzanar

Nadine Labaki (Arabic: نادين لبكيNādīn Labikī; born February 18, 1974) is a Lebanese actress, director and activist. Labaki first came into the spotlight as an actress in the early 2000s.[2] Her film-making career began in 2007 after the release of her debut film, Caramel, which premiered at the Cannes 2007 Film Festival.[3] She is known for demonstrating everyday aspects of Lebanese life and covering a range of political issues such as war, poverty, and feminism.[4] She is the first female Arab director to ever be nominated for an Oscar in the category for Best Foreign Language Film.[5]

Early Life[edit]

Labaki was born in Baabdat, Mount Lebanon Governorate, Lebanon, in a Maronite family to Antoine and Antoinette Labaki. Her father is an engineer while her mother is a homemaker.[6] She spent the first seventeen years of her life living in a war-torn environment, until 1991 when the civil war in Lebanon had ended.[7] Early in life she learned the art of story telling from her uncle, who was the family hakawati (story teller).[8] Her grandfather also owned a small theatre in Lebanon where she found her love for film.[9] She began her career with Studio El Fan, a Lebanese talent show, in 1990. The show aired during the 1970s, which continued through to the early 2000s. At the talent show, Labaki won a prize for directing various music video productions.[10]

Labaki obtained a degree in audiovisual studies at Saint Joseph University in Beirut. In 1997, she directed her graduation film, 11 Rue Pasteur, which won the Best Short Film Award at the Biennale of Arab Cinema at the Arab World Institute in Paris. Labaki is unique among her fellow Lebanese and Arab Film Makers in that she was not educated or trained abroad.[7]

In 1998, she attended a workshop in acting at the Cours Florent in Paris. She went on to direct advertisements and music videos for renowned Middle Eastern singers, for which she won several awards.


Labaki in 2007


In 2003, Labaki's name began to become more popular within the Arab media. 2003 was also the year when she began directing music videos for singer Nancy Ajram. The song, "Akhasmak ah" (I'll taunt you), sparked controversy due to the nudity presented and its sexually explicit dancing.[10]

In 2005, Labaki took part in the Cannes Film Festival Residence for six months, during that time, she wrote Caramel, her first feature film. In 2006, she directed and played one of the leading roles in Caramel, which showcases a Beirut that most people are not familiar with. Rather than tackle political issues that have plagued Lebanon, she presents a comedy that deals with five Lebanese women in Beirut who gather at a beauty salon and deal with issues related to love, sexuality, tradition, disappointment, and everyday ups and downs. The film premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, which was a commercial success in the summer of that same year. It sold worldwide and collected important prizes at many festivals around the world, garnering Labaki much acclaim both as a director and actress. It also put her on Variety's 10 Directors to Watch list at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2008 the French Ministry of Culture and Communication gave her the Insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters.

In 2010, Labaki directed and starred in her second feature film, Where Do We Go Now? The film humorously tackles a delicate subject about a village in which church and mosque stand side by side as women try to keep their blowhard men from starting a religious war.

The film also premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category in 2011. The film won the Cadillac people’s choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also collected many other awards in festivals around the world, like Cannes Film Festival, San Sebastián International Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival. The film was also nominated for best foreign film at the Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

In late 2013, Nadine Labaki started work on her third feature film called Capernaum which was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at 2018 Cannes Film Festival.[11] She used mostly non-professional actors for this film, including lead child actor Zain Al Rafeea.[12] Capernaum won the Jury Prize at Cannes,[13] and Labaki won Best Directing at the 12th Asia Pacific Screen Awards.[14]

Labaki's style of cinematography uses cinematic conventions, such as illuminations, atmosphere lighting, and silence to help convey the meaning in her films. Despite the often dangerous political situations Labaki continues to write and direct films that do not focus on conflict.

She was selected to be on the jury for the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[15]

Following the success Capernaum, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) signed Labaki in all areas, but she continues to be represented in France by Art Media Agency.[16]

Her movie Capernaum was nominated in the foreign-language Oscars category, which was a first for a female director in 2019. She is the first female Arab director to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.[17]


Nadine Labaki started acting in short films during the early 2000s.[18]

As an actor, Labaki starred in Stray Bullet, directed by Georges Hachem in 2010. She appears in the Moroccan production Rock The Casbah, directed by Laila Marrakchi, alongside actors Hiam Abbas and Lubna Azabal.[citation needed]

She has also performed in her films, Caramel, Where Do We Go Now? and Capernaum.[19]

Themes and directing style[edit]


Growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, Labaki’s films are informed by her experiences of political unrest in her home country, often exploring themes of violence and trauma.[20]

Labaki’s films challenge apathy towards important issues, such as the refugee crisis and poverty. Though themes of war and tragedy are prevalent in Labaki’s works, so is humour.[21] Her films cover the Lebanese Civil War and the lasting impacts it had on the country. Her experiences impacted Labaki personally as well as how it shaped her filmmaking. Labaki has stated that she feels that as a director she has to do something good for her country.[22] She then decided that talking about problems such as poverty and the refugee crisis is important. She believes that “Cinema can be a way to [create] change.” She has stated that she believes that politics and art are intertwined and that her films are her own “way of revolt”.[22] According to Labaki, "sometimes, a line in a film, or a scene can make you think about yourself, about your decisions. By touching your hearts films can offer hope more than politics".[21] Labaki's films have no solutions for the issues Lebanon faces, but she hopes that her films will "simply shake audiences out of their chronic lethargy".[23] She has stated that for her, filmmaking and activism are one and the same, believing that cinema can effect social change.[24]

Another common theme in her work is feminism and the female narrative. She does this by focusing on the everyday lives of women in the middle East in her films.[25]

Through her films, Nadine Labaki connects themes from the Arab world and the Western world. Her transnational feminism highlights ordinary women affected by complex realities deeply rooted in decades of political turmoil.


Labaki’s films are often cast with non-professional actors.[26] She often finds men, women, and children who live in the real neighborhoods shown on screen where they re-enact scenes from their own experiences, often in some of Beirut's grittiest slums.[26] Labaki does this to make the film as realistic as possible.[26] Labaki is also known for spending long periods of time to research and pick the cast for her films. She immerses herself in the lives of her subjects and spent four years researching her subject and the mistreated children in Beirut.[27] For her film Capernaum, she gave her actors minimal direction and used hand-held cameras to capture life in the streets of Lebanon.[26] For her film Caramel, she spent almost a year searching for women who resembled her characters.[26] She purposely did not want professional actors, she explained, and the spontaneity of each authenticates the plot of women supporting each other as they cope with their problems.[28] The filmmaker amassed months of raw footage, which she later edited down to just over two hours.[26]

Labaki states that she was inspired by the photo of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee whose lifeless body sparked outrage around the world.[29] Stating, "I remember thinking if this child could talk, what would he say, and how would he address the adults that killed him?" she says. "I wanted to become their voice, their vehicle for them to express themselves."[29]

Personal life[edit]

Labaki is multilingual, fluent in Arabic, French, English and Italian. In 2007, she married musician and composer Khaled Mouzanar. In 2009, Nadine Labaki gave birth to her first boy, Walid. In 2016, Labaki gave birth to a daughter, Mayroun.[30]

In 2016, Labaki received an honorary degree from the American University of Beirut and was the speaker at the 150th Commencement Ceremony.


Nadine Labaki was a candidate on the list of the new political movement Beirut Madinati for the capital’s May 2016 local election.[31] Beirut Madinati focuses on social justice and the good of the public utilizing a diverse group of citizens as representatives.[32]

Despite achieving about 40% of the popular vote, the movement lost against its opponent, the 'Beirutis' list' supported by Saad Hariri, in all 6 out of 12 wards, but did not gain a single seat under the election’s one-district First-past-the-post system.


As a director[edit]

As an actress[edit]

Other work[edit]

In 2014, Labaki was the goodwill ambassador for the bi-lingual and multimedia campaign produced by The Brave Heart Fund (BHF). Based out of the Children’s Heart Center at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, the BHF creates awareness and helps to fund operations and procedures for under privileged children with Congenital Heart Disease.[36]


  1. ^ نادين لبكي مخرجة لبنانية وممثلة أوروبية
  2. ^ Stafford, Roy (2014-01-10). The Global Film Book. Routledge. ISBN 9781136474583.
  3. ^ "L.A. Welcomes Lebanese Filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Who Wrote, Stars in "Caramel"". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  4. ^ Salem, Badar I.; Salem, Badar I. (2012-01-14). "Lebanese helmer uses humor to battle war". Variety. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  5. ^ "Nadine Labaki's new film, Capernaum, highlights the heroism of children in Beirut". CBC.
  6. ^ “Nadine Labaki”. American University Beirut.
  7. ^ a b Armes, Roy (2015-01-29). New Voices in Arab Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 232. ISBN 9780253015280.
  8. ^ "L.A. Welcomes Lebanese Filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Who Wrote, Stars in "Caramel"". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  9. ^ "Nadine Labaki's new film, Capernaum, highlights the heroism of children in Beirut". CBC.
  10. ^ a b Frishkopf, Michael Aaron (2010). Music and Media in the Arab World. American Univ in Cairo Press. pp. 103 and 104. ISBN 9789774162930.
  11. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (2016-05-17). "Lebanese Director Nadine Labaki Preps 'Cafarnaúm' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
  12. ^ Staff (21 November 2018). "'Capernaum' team on Cannes success and the importance of using non-professional actors". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  13. ^ Steve, Pond (19 May 2018). "'Shoplifters' Wins Palme d'Or at 2018 Cannes Film Festival". SF Gate. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  14. ^ Frater, Patrick (29 October 2018). "'Shoplifters' Takes Top Prize at Asia Pacific Screen Awards". Variety. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Un Certain Regard Jury 2015". Cannes Film Festival. 7 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  16. ^ ""'Capernaum' Director Nadine Labaki Signs With CAA"".
  17. ^ "Nadine Labaki is the first Lebanese female filmmaker to ever be nominated for an Oscar". The National. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  18. ^ Stafford, Roy (2014-01-10). The Global Film Book. Routledge. ISBN 9781136474583.
  19. ^ "Nadine Labaki's new film, Capernaum, highlights the heroism of children in Beirut". CBC.
  20. ^ "L.A. Welcomes Lebanese Filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Who Wrote, Stars in "Caramel"". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  21. ^ a b Salem, Badar I.; Salem, Badar I. (2012-01-14). "Lebanese helmer uses humor to battle war". Variety. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  22. ^ a b "Nadine Labaki's new film, Capernaum, highlights the heroism of children in Beirut". CBC.
  23. ^ Qureshi, Bilal. "Broke in Beirut". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  24. ^ Cooke, Rachel (2019-02-16). "Nadine Labaki: 'I really believe cinema can effect social change'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  25. ^ "Lebanon's star filmmaker makes Oscars history with her nom | Entertainment & Showbiz from CTV News". Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Qureshi, Bilal. "Broke in Beirut". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  27. ^ "Nadine Labaki's new film, Capernaum, highlights the heroism of children in Beirut". CBC.
  28. ^ "L.A. Welcomes Lebanese Filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Who Wrote, Stars in "Caramel"". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  29. ^ a b "'Capernaum' Director Wants Her Immigration Drama to Spark Debate". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-11-01.
  30. ^ "نادين لبكي تنجب وتختار اسماً فريداً لطفلتها.. هل تعرفون معناه؟". lahamag (in Arabic). 2 February 2016.
  31. ^ Our Candidates. Beirut Madinati website, retrieved 27 Nov 2016.
  32. ^ "Beirut Madinati". Retrieved 2018-03-02.
  33. ^ "'Rio, I Love You' Omnibus Unveils Directors, Cast and First Images". The Film State. November 12, 2013.
  34. ^
  35. ^ Capernaum, retrieved 2019-03-22
  36. ^ "News Details - Brave Heart". Retrieved 2018-03-01.

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