Label Protest!

On director and actress Widad Shafakoj

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(Picture: Black satin baroque jeweled maxi dress, patent leather heels, 
both from Karen Millen.)
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In Amman, she blocked traffic on the vital Interior Ministry Circle, chanting slogans demanding the new Louis Vutton collection, calling for sale, for lifestyle. And she’s bound to make it happen! “The new subsidy regime will deliver direct cash support to low and medium-income Jordanians” that’s what he said! Protests erupted in several parts of the Kingdom, including her, her fabulous her! But what is the art or science of influencing people on a civic really? Could it be Spring, maybe Arab Spring, or maybe Jordan’s own quizzical period! Modern political discourse focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and, err, society now a days! She is ready to rule and doesn’t seem to back down her strikes till she get those luxury must haves! Life just got hard on those poor Ammanis, where high-retail shoppers don’t know where to go! And while some take time off for vacation, reclining from a comfort zone to another, some head to the unexpected, un-exotic destinations! But what happens when you’re on a budget? That’s when Widad Shafakoj packed her bags and decided to cross the line between Abdoun and the “other Abdoun”, where she dragged her lifestyle and her labeled wardrobe with her, to her new home! As the city copes with a sluggish economy, My.Kali follows a fast growing woman who hasn’t committed a fashion crime yet!

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Photographs by Agnes Montanari. Article, styled and art directed by KaliMake-up Nada Al-Agha. Hair Mahmoud Karajogly. Digital art work by Atef Daglees. Making of video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh and Mustafa Rashed of Wara2 Productions. Special thanks to Hamza Maysarah, Rafic, Fuad Abu Zeinah, Jawad Hijazi, Dima Moris, Ala’a S. for assisting My.Kali’s team on location. And special thanks to RFC (Royal Film Commission) for granting security.  This feature is in collaboration with Project: Manifesto.

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(Picture: Pink silk jumpsuit peal beaded shoulder detailing, Bijou, found at 
Pink Dust. Beige pumps, Karen Millen.)
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My.Kali is fired up! As we throw open doors to a year filled with statements and embracing all things modern and retro, the sharp shocks of personal politics reigns supreme, and Widad is in a relatively favorable position.

In psychology, a first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. It can sometimes form an accurate representation of the person, depending on the observer and the person being observed. And she is anything but a vague notion! Widad Shafakoj have stetted the image before googling ‘first impression’ into a quantum property of her own charm quark. And ever since clicked, it was love at first sight for My.Kali! Something about her being yells upward momentum. And featured in renowned film critic Najeh Hasan’s book, the girl is set to become history’s own commission and everything remembrance.

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(Picture: Black vintage top with gold beaded detailing, vintage leather 
bag, both Topsy Loves Sid, found at Mlabbas. Black trousers, patent 
leather heels, both Karen Millen.)
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You’re an interior design graduate. You were also enrolled in SAE to study film making. two opposite majors, and two opposite interests. Was your success/shift as an up comer, a surprise?
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I started in film as a designer, and I still work a lot as an art director on film sets. I didn’t expect major success from a film I made as a school project, but that goes to show me how much I’m capable of, especially that most of what I’ve learnt in film was from being a designer on film sets. So I guess these two majors completed each other and it all worked out perfectly.

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Presenting facts objectively without editorializing, aka, documentary-filming. Does it ever get too real for you? How does it test your emotions?
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Documentary filmmaking is about being real. It’s about touching matters than nobody dares to go to because of how real they are. I consider myself a realist, and no reality is too hard for me, someone needs to get it done.

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Many believe that a near death experience could change the over view on life. Considering your position, in what way doing what you’re doing added to your personality, or changed you?
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The experiences and the people I meet doing what I do, open my eyes on many things that would never occur to me. It’s very refreshing and mind boggling at times, I enjoy it and I love exposing these stories and experiences to others who would, otherwise, have no idea.

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Do you experience culture shocks when documenting?
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I did a lot, but I think I now have certain expectations. And at the end of the day, what’s shocking is, the cultural difference between people living minutes away from each other.

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(Picture: Signature stretch satin purple and black dress, black satin 
baroque jeweled clutch, both Karen Millen.)
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What’s your relationship with your subjects after you finish the filming duration? Do you follow up or does it end when the whole thing ends?
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I am always following up, but I do somehow move on from one subject to another, and I like to give all I have to the cases I’m working on next. Yet again, every subject is close to my heart and will always have a fair share of my attention.

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Amman, a city that many have a hate/love relationship with. And the things that people rather love or hate in Amman could be either common or rather peculiar. Personally, where do you stand on the subject, and what do you hate/love about Amman?
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I love Amman, it’s my city, my comfort zone, and the place that made me. I dislike the judgment, the injustice, and the lack of motivation we have in Amman though. I wish people would love, support, respect and accept each other more.

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“I’m always going to be looking for more controversial subjects to document” a memorable note you’ve told OC magazine a while back. Now, My.Kali have documented you in a controversial-related subject. Now, do you feel connected to such extreme differences when meeting Amman, and what the shoot is highlighting?
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My.Kali, along with Project Manifesto are working on a great campaign.  Projecting it in the artistic, yet sarcastic way that you are, relates really well to the audience, and that’s what I think film does as well. We have means to connect to people differently now, and mentioning controversy in the ways that we are, is relatable, sweet on the eyes, and definitely easier to interpret. I’m all for it.

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(Picture: Signature stretch satin purple and black dress, black satin 
baroque jeweled clutch, both Karen Millen.)
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You’ve witnessed surreal things and experienced a hail of emotions during your shoot, like the attention to detail, classism, sarcasm, sugar-coated ordeal, awkwardness, and in a strange sense, a celebration of cultural differences within Jordan. Do you think this is becoming part of every Jordanian, like Abdoun vs, Abdoun for instance?
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I think it should be a part of every Jordanian! For it is a part of our daily lives. It is hard for one side of Abdoun to accept the other side of Abdoun I feel, but I wish we didn’t have this problem. During this shoot, I witnessed a new sense of openness and praise to what both Abdounis do, it was a fun experience and I feel its necessary to expose those two sides -along with many other local diversities- to each other more often.  

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(Picture: black and green sequined dress, Bijou, found at Pink Dust. Patent 
leather heels, Karen Millen.)
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Do you think Amman's paradox is part of the city's charm, could it be inspiring? 

It sure is, both charming and inspiring. It’s interesting how we can travel from old to new, rich to poor, free and open to conservative and traditional in no time basically. What I don’t like about it is the extreme difference, for example, I wish everyone had the same quality of education, for then, we, as people maybe wouldn’t be so different.

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Do you feel that Amman is a friendly city to those who wants to chill out by themselves? Have you ever went out chilled at a cafe on your own with a book or a magazine?
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Yes I feel it totally is, we have many places in Amman made for that. I love chilling on my own with a book or my laptop, but I don’t do it as much as I probably should.

 

“I love Amman, it’s my city, my comfort zone, and the place that made me. I dislike the judgment, the injustice, and the lack of motivation we have in Amman though.”

 

Penal code Article 308; which by law gives a rapist the right to marry his victim! For a woman whose driven and in control over her life and career, what’s your take on what’s known as the “rape-law”?
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I think, along with many weak, shameful, and incomprehensible laws in Jordan, this law must be instantly removed for it defies our Human Rights agreement, is plain wrong and only takes Jordan backwards.

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Do superwomen really exist?
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A woman shouldn’t be considered super for her outstanding achievements, these are the least any woman can do! I think superwomen live in mothers; mothers are the superwomen I know.

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(Picture: black and gold stripped dress, Bijou found at Pink Dust. Patent leather 
heels, Karen Millen.)
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Women in this country get harassed all the time. Tell us about a situation where you got harassed and what did you do about it/what do you think you should’ve done about it?
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When it comes to harassment, we females witness it a lot; it is almost impossible to remember all the incidents. In such situations, I hate keeping my mouth shut, I feel like I want to harass back, but it’s not always easy. I do though talk back many times.

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“My family think I’m nuts sometimes”, upon our earlier conversation, you expressed the idea of adopting, including him/her to your family village, as many children are born in/to different circumstances. How does that fit within our society, and hypothetically, how can you make it work?
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I don’t know exactly how it would fit in our society, but I think when you’re willing to do something that major, it’s basically your decision and society fails to make a difference on that decision once it’s made. I still really believe in that and would still like to make it happen. I know many people in Jordan and the Arab world with adopted children and I salute them!

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Many people do accept LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual/Transgender, Questioning/Queer) people but don’t accept the idea of them being parents. How would your opinion earlier on adoption affects your opinion on gay parents?
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Parents must give all their love and attention to their kids; make sure they’re a 100% happy, satisfied, and protected. Many mothers and fathers are not capable parents; many orphanages destroy children, if it takes a gay couple to avoid kids all that madness and give them a better life and future, so be it.

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Do you think the traditional notions of marriage are challenged in terms of days today, especially when it comes to homosexuality?
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Well, we are seeing more and more people getting married without the traditional prerequisites, we’ve seen an official civil marriage in Lebanon just recently where a female Muslim and a male Christian got married. And yes, you can say that the traditional ways of marriage are fading slowly but surely, it needs time.

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What do you think the perfect house-warming gift to get a gay couple who’re moving-in together?
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I have no idea I think! It would really depend on the couple! But just to be safe and please all, perhaps a big picture of myself.

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(Picture: Grey strong shouldered blazer, Issa, found at Pink Dust. White 
crepe shirt, black trousers, patent leather heels, all from Karen Millen.)
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A woman in your age, experiencing and expressing freedom in her 20s, in the Middle East. How does your family feel toward your liberalism? And do you think it might cause some obstacles on the longer run, when it’s time to tie the knot?
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My direct family accepts and understands me; they support me and in no way would stop me doing what I do. Having said that, tying the knot depends on me and whenever I am ready for that step in my life.

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To BBC Arabia you talked about reading an open letter in a paper directed to the king, from two guys ‘one whose an orphan and the other with an unknown parentage’, struggling to find their identity. You eventually managed to reach them and talk to them and come to understand their situation and their struggle, hence including them in your documentary ‘ID 000’. Now, many of our readers find hard times accepting who they are, what they are, as in their identity. As a person who have shared her personal opinion and emotions toward many cases, what can you tell our readers?
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You are who you are for a reason, there’s no time to waste worrying about and struggling over your identity. Accepting who you are and not just that, loving it as well, will put you in a much better place. Don’t let anybody tell you who you should be, and don’t let anything stop you from being whoever you want to be. I say as long as you are comfortable with who you are and what you do, you should simply go for it.

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Do you think acting will let you discover an exhibitionist side to yourself?
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Probably, but I believe one can also portray his opinion, thoughts and point of view from behind the camera. There is a kind of rush that comes with acting though, a beautiful addictive kind of rush.

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(Picture: Grey strong shouldered blazer, Issa, found at Pink Dust. White 
crepe shirt, black trousers, patent leather heels, all from Karen Millen.)
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You expressed an interest in acting earlier, would you ever play a lesbian role whose in a traumatic state? If yes, how would you prepare for the role?
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Just as is the case with any movie, I would need to consider the story line and what message the film is conveying, and I would consider what would be needed from my character. A lot of research would have to be done though; it’s best to perfect any role you play.

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(Picture: Signature stretch satin purple and black dress, black satin 
baroque jeweled clutch, both Karen Millen.)
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What are your plans for the longer term?
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I would like to continue to incorporate film and society, I’m working on a personal project now, a film that tackles a serious issue in Jordan, I am also working on different projects as an art director, and making small films here and there. Whatever my plans end up being, I hope I’m always making a difference.

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In your interviews you always appear gathered, sure. Have you always been confidant?
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Confidence grows with you, with your experiences and achievements; I’ve always been shy, but always believed in myself.

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One reader asked, how do you manage your time; filming, family time, your personal project and socializing?
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You come upon days where the hours are not enough, and then you come upon others where there’s time for everything. I don’t have a specific routine that I follow, so everyday is interesting and different.

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CUT! What’s the most uncomfortable situation you’ve ever faced, maybe during filming?
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Honestly, I haven’t faced any uncomfortable situations during filming, should I consider myself lucky? Now that I’ve said that, I’m sure I’ll have plenty in the future.

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What’s your “Last Friday Night” moment (considering Katy Perry’s music video/song), that leaves laughing or agitating?
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Any Friday spent with the right group of friends is sure to end with everyone laughing; the other way is also true. If I’m with the right crowd, we’re bound to have an outrageous Friday night. And definitely do it all again.

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(Picture: Pencil dress with mesh black, patent leather heels, both Karen 
Millen. Vintage Nina Ricci eyewear, Widad's own.)
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A meeting of minds! What are your favorite TV shows? Maybe character…
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I have several favorite shows, one of my all time favorite characters is Karen from Will and Grace, she’s straightforward and extremely funny.
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What’s your favorite Sad song you like to listen to when you’re down or sad?
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I don’t really have one, I’m maybe too old for that. But I do love Oh Carol by Neil Sedaka, it doesn’t sadden me but it brings back a lot of special memories.

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What TV moments (maybe an interview, a video clip, a documentary, a certain moment on a TV show, or a movie) that makes you cry every time you see it?
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I am not a crier, but unfortunate true stories in general and the news probably would sadden me the most. First time I watched I am Sam I cried senselessly, but I think it was because I was generally upset that day! I never cried to it again, and I did watch it over a million times.

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The End

 

NOTE: When My.Kali’s team were on location days before the shoot to spray the walls with the brand names, many of the people from the area gathered around and asked of what the symbols meant, the team replied that they were logos of brands that are super expensive. Some of the kids didn’t believe that a pair of shoes or one piece of clothing could cost more then their house. And some actually thought that we were spreading religious and cult symbols in the area, like what they did to Louis Vuitton logo, or masonic like Burberry’s, as they used mud to cover it using their own hands, and wrote next to it ‘no to the cross’. Project: Manifesto and My.Kali wanted to create a dialogue between the brands and  people of the area. 

 

You can follow Widad’s updates through her Facebook page (here)

 

Watch the making of  ‘Label Protest’ in Hay Al Qayseyyeh.

Watch ‘Label Protest’ mini-film of Widad Shafakoj.

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