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Bilal and the importance of art in 21st century

|By Alaa Al Ghamdi| The film “Bilal” has recently been released in the Middle East. I’m hoping that it is the first in a long line of new films to come out of the Arab world. 
Art, specifically cinema, theatre and television, is struggling to find a place in the Arab world, with those that are being released unsure of whether they will get the accolades, the viewers and the recognition they deserve.
It would be logical to assume that over time, the arts world would become more professional, with higher quality productions appearing over time. Films from today should be more advanced that those from half a century ago. But actually, the opposite has happened. Art today has become more formal, less technical and less engaging. It’s a crying shame, frankly. 
When we see Muslims or people playing the role of Muslims, through these representations of ourselves we can explore what it is to be Arab. However, there’s more to it than just seeing characters on the screen. There is a need to have more writers coming from our world, writing about their real life experiences. Without good writers, because of the rush to produce technical films that perhaps don’t have the substance that an effective writer would impart, then regardless of how good an actor there may be in the role; this doesn’t come to much without a worthy script. 
Art bridges cultural gaps. Telling our stories and sharing our heroes makes us easier to understand to the whole world, even when the text is in Arabic! We can see it in the popularity of well-known films like The Message and Omar Mukhtar.
Cinema is a powerful tool. It sends out messages to the whole world, whether the growing popularity of superhero films which teach children to do what is right and to stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves, or an art-house exploration of huge subjects like love, war and what it means to be human. Cinema can act as a looking glass, helping people to understand themselves better through what they see depicted on a screen. 
Hopefully, the latest film to come out of our region, Bilal, will go on to have great success. It’s already getting great reviews, gaining awards and recognition at Cannes. The film is visually stunning, featuring one of the longest battle scenes in the history of animation. The story is about the great companion Bilal ibn Rabah. Because the film is animated, controversy over the representation of the prophet can be avoided. The film examines our rights as people to live life freely. 
However, those looking for a religious text examining the life of Bilal may be disappointed. Bilal’s role as a companion of the prophet loses much of their importance. Instead the film feels like a beautiful letter addressed to someone else, speaking of the tolerance of Islam. This is symbolised in the sword that represents the power of the mind and does not represent anger or revenge and aggression. The film is truly stunning, and we should be rightly proud of the years of work that the team behind it have put in.
The producer Ayman Tariq Jamal has said that it is strange in the Arab world, despite all the progress, the film industry is the only that has no movement forward in the production values and techniques over the past 30 years. He talked about the importance of the content industry and art as a way to connect people with their own histories. He said, ‘animation is a very liberating art form. We can tell stories in abstract and unique ways.’ 
Films which promote the values of their producers are very common in Western and Eastern cinema. It is the messages behind the art, the story between the lines that are very important. We need to be supportive of the efforts of creators, especially when they promote the values and goals that we hold dear in new and engaging ways.
By investing in the arts, promoting our values in a way that will resonate with future generations, we can create a better world. Cinema, TV shows, theatre; all these can thrive in the Gulf States. We have got the talent and the potential to be a huge success.