With only two years left to complete her program in medical school, Noor Al Yaseen made the decision to drop out. Eight months would pass before her family in Saudi Arabia would speak to her again. Little could deter Al Yaseen, however. She was determined to succeed as a filmmaker.
Fast forward five years and Al Yaseen is now well on her way. At 27, she is leaving a permanent mark as one of the first ten female Saudi Arabian filmmakers and the only one to explore sex as a topic in her films. She is currently a student at the New York Film Academy in Burbank.
“My creation for stories started when I was a tiny baby playing with my barbie,” Al Yaseen says. “I would play in my room for hours, making my barbies talk and create stories. I never thought I would join the industry. In our culture, we don’t even have cinema.”
In Saudi Arabia, Al Yaseen’s pursuit of film is considered taboo. Particularly as a woman, she faces strong backlash from her community. “They think of me as low, as if I am doing something wrong,” she says.
In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights have long faced international scrutiny. In fact, women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, go anywhere without a chaperone, interact too freely with men they are unrelated to or leave the house without proper garment covering most of their bodies and all of their hair.
It is for these exact reasons that Al Yaseen sees her actions as vital. Many women in Saudi Arabia are afraid to speak out and without anywhere to turn, they choose to remain complacent. Al Yaseen wants to be an advocate for these women.
“The way we are raised and what society tells us, it puts us in a corner,” she says. “Society reminds us every day that as women, we are not strong. I am giving a voice to so many women who don’t have a voice.”
Al Yaseen finds that many of her peers question her loyalty to the culture and frown upon her decision. But the young filmmaker wants to make it clear that her outspoken nature should not be mistaken as disdain for her heritage. She is proud of her origin and only wants to carve a path towards a brighter future for the women in Saudi Arabia.
“If I wasn’t grateful, I wouldn’t say ‘I am lucky to be Saudi,’” she says. “I am not talking badly about our culture, I am only mentioning what is bad so that it can change. In order to move forward, we have to address the bad.”
She has recently submitted a short film called Yumna for consideration to join the Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of Yumna, a young Saudi Arabian girl who comes to the U.S. to study. After falling in love with an American man, Yumna struggles to reconcile her actions with the realms dictated by her culture.
Currently, Al Yaseen is working on her thesis as well as a provocative music video that is bound to offer a fresh perspective on women in Saudi Arabia.
“My comfort zone is talking about how strong women are,” Al Yaseen says. “My strong area is actually being an activist and trying my hardest to change something for us. Even if I cannot change it, I can at least start a dialogue about it.”