As kids, we grow up with clear imagery of what professionals in certain professions look like. In my Sesame Street days, I learned farmers wear overalls with checkered shirts, nannies are British and carry parasols, and professional Arabs wear white robes and headdresses accessorized with grenade belts. These images came to me from film and television, and I bought most of them, even with real live Arab parents there to counterbalance the TV Arab.
(Okay, there are some exceptions in which my childhood TV holds true—like waitresses at diners wear white aprons that tie at the waist. This one persists as the whole diner concept has evolved into nostalgia for an imagined memory of American utopia.)
I wanted to make films, too. But then I learned from TV that directors-are flamboyant, European, wear berets and ascots, have a cigar and carry megaphones when they talk—and are men. So I thought about other possible dreams, as I knew that I could be convinced to shout in a megaphone but had no hope of being a man.
Then a person grows up and moves to Hollywood and finds out farmers, at least the organic ones, have pretty hip jeans and cool t-shirts, often with a marijuana leaf on them, the accent that nannies have is Spanish, and Arabs are the mostly like to wear overalls to work at the gas stations, if not wearing polo shirts as engineers. And directors are indistinguishable from the rest of the angst-ridden people in Los Angeles—although they’re still most likely men.
But every once in while, your Hollywood childhood imagery is a pleasant memory that comes
back to you– like it did when I interviewed Syria’s most acclaimed director Nabil Maleh, during which he gave me a photo of himself as a young director. There was the beret, megaphone, and still to this day an endearingly larger than life personality. He has never been a farmer, but on the day of our interview he was the one wearing the checkered shirt.