Saudi Hollywood star Dina Shihabi is forging her own path with ‘Habibti’

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Dina Shihabi — who spent her childhood between Riyadh, Beirut and Dubai — spoke to Arab News about the challenges she has faced in Hollywood. (AFP)

LOS ANGELES: From Rami Malek to Ramy Youssef, Arab celebrities are making it big in Hollywood and one Saudi actress is forging a path on her own terms with her very own TV show.

Dina Shihabi — who spent her childhood between Riyadh, Beirut and Dubai — spoke to Arab News about the challenges she has faced in Hollywood, as well as the show she is developing.

Shihabi, who secured a role on the second season of Netflix’s “Altered Carbon,” is currently developing her own series, “Habibti.”

The series, which is still in production, is based on the overwhelming experience of living in Los Angeles and follows three Arab women as they mix two cultures and build lives for themselves in the US.

“I wrote this story with my friend. And it’s really about how America sells freedom as the answer to your happiness,” Shihabi told Arab News. “And then you move here and you do all these things that seem like freedom but actually freedom is an idea and what we really are all striving for is a connection to yourself.”

Shihabi moved to the US in 2007 and was the first Middle Eastern-born woman to be accepted to The Juilliard School and the New York University Graduate Acting Program. She began appearing in short films in 2010, but her big break came in 2017 with the role of Hanin in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

“I really treated her like just a woman who is a mother and a wife who has a complicated past and all she wants to do is protect her children,” Shihabi explained. “I know that that’s my mother’s greatest priority. And when I spoke to her about this part I said you know ‘what is it like being a mother?’ She said when I gave birth to you guys, it felt like a part of me was suddenly outside of myself.”

Shihabi cited Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki — whose film “Capernaum” was nominated for an Oscar in 2018 — as a personal inspiration and said she feels honored for the opportunity to inspire a new generation of Arab talent.

She even shared her advice for those who want to make it big in Hollywood.

“Look around to the people that are around you right now and start making things. And focus, hard work, determination, passion (are important). Those are real things,” she said. “I’ve been here for 12  years and I’m still working really hard to make the things I want happen and I don’t think it’s ever going to end. If you choose this life, you are choosing a life where you have to really work hard.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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