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"More women in the Gulf are dominating the media scene and the potential for our region to create its own 'wood' is now becoming greater than ever." - Sheikha Abrar Khaled Al Sabah, Founder of Abbey's Productions

- Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah is elevating the cinematic and drama content of the Gulf to originate an inclusive 'Khaleeji-wood' (a metonym for the Arabian Gulf cinema), and highly position its content on global motions through Abbey's productions

There is no doubt that the appetite for film, drama, and media is rapidly increasing in the MENA region. The film and media industry in the Arab world is exponentially growing and currently being perceived as an untapped and lucrative economic opportunity.

A recent outlook report by PwC showed that MENA's cinema revenue will increase by 4% in 2024 comparing to the global cinema revenue, which is to decrease by 2.4%. The report also showed that the revenue of MENA alone constitutes almost 2% of the global cinema revenue (including Asia).

Gulf countries such as the UAE and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been actively harnessing the power of this industry. The neighboring countries have been heavily investing in culture and media to unlock an opportunity for economic diversification, promote tourism, and attract investors to their countries.

Kuwait hasn't been diligently involved in the economic game of cinema and media until recently. Kuwaiti drama and film content have always been on the forefront of renowned channels attracting a large pool of audience. However, the industry hasn't been tapped as an investment opportunity to boost the nation's non-oil economic sectors.

Discerning the golden opportunities that this booming industry is offering, a young Kuwaiti female entrepreneur from the royal family, Sheikha Abrar Khaled Al Sabah, founded a productions company in the midst of a global pandemic to foster Kuwait's presence in this field.

Abbey's Productions, a Kuwait-based production house that was founded in 2019 by the Sheikha, is dedicated to elevate the cinematic and new media content in the region. Most importantly, produce content that will depict an accurate representation of Kuwait and the region to the global audience.

"It is no secret that for the past ten years, our region was identified and perceived by the west in different forms. You'd find those who use 'Dubai' as a landmark to refer to the Gulf countries. And, those who signify our region with Islamic extremism, gender oppression, tents, and camels. None of that portray an accurate and fair representation of our world," stated Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.

"I founded Abbey's Productions to achieve three goals. Highlight this thriving investment opportunity for Kuwait to consider it as a non-oil economic sector because it is completely overlooked. Show the world an authentic image of our region through raw stories and elevated content that would align with the current standards of the international production market. And, originate an inclusive 'Khaleeji-wood' that would fairly represent our region and people to the world," added Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.

Women and media in the Gulf

While the global gender norms and policies are shifting to promote equality in all areas of life, women in the Gulf have indeed broke so many constraints and are matching their ambitions in establishing social, political, and economic roles for them. Numerous articles have reported the transformation of the women's situation in a country like Saudi Arabia. Statistics have also shown that Arab women film makers are outpacing their counterparts in the US and Europe and leading voices in the industry. Arab News published various articles showing that women in the Gulf are changing long-held stereotypes through the media.

There is an obvious emerge of Saudi women in the field and Kuwaiti women have recently started to lead the scene. This was noticed through the recent breakthrough of Netflix's drama series, The Exchange, which was written by a Kuwaiti writer and acted by Kuwaiti women. The rise of women filmmakers, writers, content creators, and directors prompted Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah's efforts to enter the field and contribute to its growth as a Kuwaiti female producer.

"Female filmmakers in the Gulf are breaking the stereotypical roles of women in our region and they are highly contributing to the industry. However, more women in Kuwait need to explore other fields than acting because we are in need of Kuwaiti female writers, directors, and producers depicting accurate pictures and narrating raw stories of women in our country and the region," explained Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.

She added that women in the Gulf have the power to eradicate the misrepresentation of the region on global motions, and that Kuwaiti women can reshape the nation's policies and contribute to the country's global position by capitalizing on this wide-open window that will expose the real power of Kuwaiti women in different areas of life.

Kuwait's royal family member affirmed that her goal is to elevate the media content produced in the Gulf to align with the international standard of cinema and television. Accordingly, her production house, Abbey's productions, focuses on the technicalities of the produced content by adopting the most authentic stories and well-written scripts, using latest film-making and production equipment, and producing the highest quality of content.

She explained: "It is not about the story. It is about how the story is portrayed, narrated, and broadcasted. My role as a female producer is to ensure the depiction of our human stories in the most real and innovative manner to impact the viewer."

"For years, we've been watching Arab women being misrepresented in Hollywood. Only highlighting the passive parts of our societies and not depicting the full picture of what Arab women can do, be, and their life really is. Just like in the west, we have women who struggle in our societies. Nevertheless, we also have women entrepreneurs, CEOs, great mothers, substantial leaders, and many more. Our new media need to highlight all parts of our societies and narrate accurate raw stories of our lives. And, that's what we are doing through our produced content at Abbey's Productions. We simply narrate accurate and authentic stories of our lives as Arabs," explained Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.

Elevating the standards of Arab media

Praising Saudi Arabia's efforts in expanding the role of women in the industry and providing stupendous opportunities through events like the Red Sea Film Festival, Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah highlighted Kuwait's role in the industry.

"Kuwait has always been a key player in the Gulf's drama and film industry, and now, more than ever, Kuwait needs to invest in this field and reposition itself in the 'Khaleeji-wood,'" said the Kuwaiti royal family member.

She also stressed on the importance of nurturing Kuwait's film-makers, story tellers and content creators; noting how Kuwaiti film-makers are currently being acquired by Saudi Arabia and contributing to the Kingdom's emerging film industry.

She added: "Kuwaiti film-makers have had their prints in the region's film and drama industry. In addition to so many Khaleeji (Gulf) drama and movies, Al Sattar (2022) on Netflix is a Saudi film but was directed by the prominent Kuwaiti director, Abdullah Al Arak. Kuwait's TV drama industry is considered to be the largest and most active drama industry in the Gulf. Our film-makers, actors, and actresses were the first to pave the way for TV drama and film in the region. Our country must capitalise on this opportunity and reposition itself through Kuwaiti media professionals."

Media entrepreneurship in the Gulf

Entrepreneurship is a trending topic in the Arab world. There is an obvious rise in startups and a well-promoted understanding on the importance of entrepreneurship in the region. The region's governments and officials have been putting entrepreneurship as one of their priorities for economic development and youth empowerment. Governments in the Gulf have been strategically placing bolstering investments to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs that would foster their innovation, upskill their capacities, and growth.

Underlining the importance of supporting media entrepreneurs, Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah pointed that media entrepreneurship is underscored in the region. "We always hear about tech entrepreneurs, startups, social media influencers, and lifestyle businesses. However, media entrepreneurship is rarely tackled in our region despite this field's hulking revenues," she noted.

"I believe that festivals such as the Red Sea Film Festival and Gona Film Festival can have a larger impact on media entrepreneurs. Our region's festivals mainly target top-notch names in the field and film-making enthusiasts. Startups and media entrepreneurs need space and recognitions in such notable events," underscored Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.

The potential and rapid success of investing in the media business is yet to be recognised by entrepreneurs and angel investors. Tracing the success record of Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah's production house, Abbey's Productions, the company has managed to quickly become one of the most promising production entities given the impact of its produced drama series and content, and above all, drive sustainable profits.

Abbey's Productions started off on a small-scale offering services such as redrafting scripts and providing production support. In less than three years, the company was able to allocate large investments in the latest high-tech cinematography equipment and tools. The team places strong emphasis on all the details related to production and content. Despite the market challenges during the pandemic, the company produced so many hits.

One of which is the series In Mecca's Time (Bi Tawqeet Mecca), the first TV drama to be filmed at the Kabaa, the holiest site in Islam, located in Mecca. It was ranked as the #1 most viewed in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on Abbey's last Ramadan's produced series, the Honourable Position (Hadret El Mawkef) was acquired by major Pan-Arab channels such the MBC and Dubai TV as well as the leading Middle-East streaming platform, The series was ranked as one of the most viewed series in the Gulf on the platform during Ramadan 2022. In addition, Abbey's produced two seasons of At Street No. 9 (E'and Share'a 9), a drama series that quickly gained the top viewed spots on

Conclusively, there is so much power that the media holds in shaping societies, decisions, forming identities and influencing state systems. The demands, lifestyle, and interests of the public audience is also rapidly changing. Accordingly, Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah explained that elevating Arab film and drama content is now becoming a vital pillar to sustain any media business.

"Our region's audience is now heavily exposed to great quality of content produced by other sides of the world. We must align with these international standards to maintain the interests of Arabs in their own stories. On the other hand, we have a responsibility to voice our own real stories, especially as Arab women, to the global audience. We don't have to abandon our social traditions and values to fit in the global 'woods.' We can still heavily contribute and impact the industry without opposing our own voices. I don't see that there is any contradiction between working in the media and being an Arab woman. I come from a Royal family and I am still committed and dedicated towards my mission and hopes for my country, Kuwait, to be globally positioned through the Global 'wood," concluded Sheikha Abrar Al Sabah.


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