Editor’s Forward – A wonderful organization was recently brought to my attention by a lady who has graced our pages in the past. Actress Shelly Skandrani, who was featured here in a February 2018 interview, is a proud member of Women Creating Change, an organization by and for Middle Eastern women in the entertainment industry. Shelly, who was born in Isreal, of Egyptian and Turkish descent, told me of the very successful and well-attended second annual fundraising event WCC had just last month, entitled stand Up 4 Her, which the above photo is from. What follows are the words of Shelly, followed by blurbs by Shelly’s writing partner Natalie Marciano, WCC founding team member Natasha Kermani, and WCC founder Lee Broda. All photographers courtesy of Claude Charles, Jonathan C. Ward, and Shelly herself.
Women Creating Change is an organization for women in entertainment from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It’s a space where MENA women from all religions and backgrounds come to meet one another, collaborate, and strengthen each other. By working together, we not only help one another, but serve as an example to the world that religion and politics do not define who we are and how we connect.
The organization was founded by Israeli producer, actress, and poet, Lee Broda (producer of The Kindergarten Teacher and A Private War) on June 2017. She gathered her Middle Eastern ladies in entertainment and we had our huge launch event that November. The 120 women who joined us at the day-long event enjoyed a riveting panel with successful Middle Eastern women in entertainment, one-on-one meetings with industry professionals, workshops, a film screening, as well as breakfast and lunch.
We introduced our mission to the community, and in fact, we started building the community. Ever since, we’ve been making waves in the industry. Ultimately, we aim to spotlight and impact the cultural parity facing MENA women in entertainment and believe that together we are stronger, because our similarities are greater than our differences.
There are ten founding members; Natalie Marciano and myself included, as well as Inbal-Rotem Sagiv, Nawal Bengholam, Natasha Kermani, Reem Edan, Eliya Reis, Micky Levy, Reem Kadem, and Nina N. Ameri, Esq. But there are also dozens of other women who help organize events and meetings, and even more that come to our regular mixers.
We are all filmmakers and artists, and we are dedicated to empowering and opening doors for women in entertainment. These women are powerhouses, each and every one of them, striving for excellence, using their voice to inspire change, and create art that reflects the stories of women across the globe.
We just had our second annual fundraising event two weeks ago. A spectacular variety show called Stand Up 4 Her, with comedians, poets, musicians, and artists, all from the Middle East and North Africa. Women of all religions and backgrounds, came together on the stage to celebrate our rich history and culture. It was a huge success. The event even included Middle Eastern food, decor, and an open bar! (See the post press release at the end of the article for more information.)
We have regular events and mixers, some of which are more intimate and allow our members to get to know each other better, while others are open to anyone in the industry, so that our members can make new connections. These are just some of our events scheduled for 2020:.
- January 2020 – INTERNAL EVENT: Visioning Workshop – Setting personal goals and celebrating a new year together in our intimate WCC circle.
- February 2020 – PUBLIC EVENT: Film Screening and Panel – WCC & A Partner Organization Screening of a film to a wide audience. The selected project to screen will be focused on, or made by, women from the region.
- March 2020 – INTERNAL EVENT: Professional Enrichment: “The Art of Pitching” – Pitching workshop followed by a panel of producers from different positions. We also have a Short films program, table reads, mixers, LACMA jazz nights, and even a breakfast pitching event to financiers and industry professionals. We have big goals, and we’ve been really successful at achieving them so far!
Natalie Marciano, and I are writing and creative partners, we have a lot of projects in the works right now, and we focus on female led stories with social messages. I have recently received my Artist’s Green Card, which has opened so many doors in my career. I can’t express what a relief it is, as an immigrant, to finally feel like the USA is my home, to know that I can make roots, rather than feeling like I’m floating in mid air, to know that I have my power back.
Now that I am free to write, and not restricted by a work visa to only act, I have delved into writing scripts with complex female characters. Because complexity is beautiful. I also write poetry that empowers women and focuses on human rights, I’ve written over 120 poems this year, about my experiences as an immigrant, as a women, as an artist, and about love and heartbreak. I performed two of these poems at the event.
I’m in post-production on a short anti rape thriller, a film that I wrote and directed, and Natalie Marciano starred in and helped me produce, called Community, which has become a proof of concept for a feature film we are now writing called “The Community.” Natalie and I write comedies and dramas together. We are pitching three comedy TV shows right now, one of which is an exciting female-led comedy which we wrote with the extraordinary Israeli creator Sahar Hagai. We were also hired to write a dramatic book adaptation called “Climb Your Everest,” which is based on a true story about a heroic Persian woman called Sara Safari, who climbs mountains to raise money for at risk girls in Nepal. It’s a truly compelling survival story, about Mount Everest. We are also founding members of Women Creating Change, and we are constantly putting together events and mixers with the team.
I love using my work to empower others, most of what I write has a social agenda hidden within the comedy, or the drama. Movies need to inspire, to provoke thought and emotions, you’d be surprised how many viewers are drawn to that, they want to connect to something with meaning.
Women Creating Change works. This year Natasha Kermani, a brilliant female director, hired me for a role in her upcoming film Lucky, which she produced with Epic Pictures. Natasha is Baha’i, I am Jewish, both Middle Eastern, but we never would have met, we never would have clicked, were it not for WCC.
Natalie Marciano is a Canadian writer and comedienne based in Los Angeles. She began her career behind the scenes at Showtime in publicity/ talent relations. Natalie’s passion for comedy and telling powerful female-driven stories combined with her Moroccan-Israeli background led her to becoming a creator. She currently has several projects in development and enjoys performing her standup comedy.
Women creating change is so much more than an ambitious group of females from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s an example of what is possible when we put differences aside and focus on what really matters. Advancement comes from abandoning prejudices, deep healing, and learning that every person has something to contribute.
Mother Theresa once said she would never attend an anti war rally, but a pro peace one instead. As a mother myself, it is my responsibility to leave this world in a better place for my children. It has been my purpose both as a Writer and Comedian to make people laugh while simultaneously shedding light on global issues. We can accomplish so much more with laughter than we can with rage.
I was so thrilled to see this event come together through the hard work of our members and our collaborations. It was so exciting to see middle eastern women take center stage for the evening and only served to show how much creativity and energy we have to give as a community.
It is our responsibility to help create a better world and use our voices to promote good. Especially in times like these when tensions are high. We are not our governments, we are fellow humans, friends, artists, here as examples of change and possibility.
We’ve been planning Stand Up 4 Her for a while, and were excited to share our vision, but little did we know it would incite such a magnificent reaction!