Syrian 'For Sama' director stuns Oscars in Arabic-calligraphy dress

Director of Syria documentary 'For Sama' stuns Oscars in statement Arabic-calligraphy dress
4 min read
10 February, 2020
'For Sama' won the BAFTA for Best Documentary this year, but narrowly missed out on the Academy Award to 'American Factory'.
Kateab's dress was designed by Syrian Reem Masri [Getty]
Syrian Waad al-Kateab may have narrowly missed out on nabbing an Academy Award for her harrowing documentary 'For Sama', but the award-winning film director still managed to make a splash at this year's Oscars ceremony with her Arabic calligraphy-embroidered dress.

Kateab's floor-length blush gown, envisioned by Syrian designer Reem Masri, was inscribed in pink with a powerful message that also runs through the heart of her film: "We dared to dream, and we will not regret asking for dignity."

Masri, a Syrian refugee based in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, has known Kateab since 2013.

Kateab has always worn something she has designed to award ceremonies, the designer told Vogue.

"Then the Oscars came, and we decided that I should design the dress," Masri said. "We selected the colour of the dress that matches her skin color, and the calligraphy colour the same as the plant she left behind in her house in Aleppo before they were forcibly displaced."

Read more: For Sama: One mother's astonishing tale for her daughter documenting hope and horror in Syria

"I am already proud of [Kateab]," the designer added. "Waad, a friend, a human, and a mother who feels all of her friends' pain and concerns. I am proud of you as a great director that reached the Oscars. Thank you for trusting me."
'We dared to dream, and we will not regret asking for dignity' [Getty]


The filmmaker was accompanied to the Los Angeles ceremony by her husband, Syrian doctor Hamza al-Kateab, and their daughter Sama, for whom the documentary was dedicated.

Portrayed as a letter from mother to daughter, 'For Sama' follows Kateab's day-to-day life in Aleppo over the course of five years, from the 2011 uprising to life under the city's devastating siege by Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Kateab gets married to Hamza - a doctor at one of the few remaining hospitals in Aleppo whose work the film follows - and gives birth to her daughter Sama, whose upbringing amid chaotic warfare fills the new mother with palpable fear.

'For Sama', co-directed by British filmmaker Edward Watts, has been widely acclaimed as one of the most moving and immersive accounts of Syria's nine-year war.

It earned a record four nominations at the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), picking up the prize for Best Documentary at the award show earlier this month.

Last year, 'For Sama' earned the best documentary award at the Cannes film festival and the Documentary Feature Competition's Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the South by Southwest festival.

The film also picked up four British Independent Film Awards, as well as a nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards, where it narrowly missed out to 'American Factory'.

The Barack and Michelle Obama-produced documentary about a Chinese factory in Ohio also beat 'For Sama' to the Best Documentary prize at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony.

'For Sama' was nominated for the Oscar award alongside another Syrian documentary, 'The Cave', which follows an all-women medical team working at an underground hospital in Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, as the opposition enclave is subject to continuous bombardment by regime forces.

As with her dress at Sunday's Oscar ceremony, Kateab has used her public appearances to draw attention to Syrian civilians' ongoing plight.

"This award, I will dedicate it for the great Syrian people who [are] still suffering until today and the great heroes of doctors, nurses, civil defence," she said during her acceptance speech at the BAFTAs.

Almost 600,000 people have been displaced since the Syrian regime and its Russian ally intensified their campaign to retake the country's last opposition bastion in December. 

More than 300 civilians have lost their lives since late last year.

Speaking to Variety ahead of Sunday's ceremony, Kateab called on US President Donald Trump and other world leaders to take responsibility for the devastation.

"They really need to take responsibility about what is happening. Everything happened for Syrian people just because they were demanding freedom and dignity and this is what I think every leader over the world wants this country to be in," she said.

"If the Russians weren't backing Assad's regime, we would never be standing here telling you about a very harrowing story. We would [be speaking] about the end of [an] amazing revolution with a very successful end. Unfortunately, this didn't happen because no one in the Western countries take their responsibility to this world."

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