Former Miss Lebanon Nadine Wilson Njeim has spoken out about the controversy surrounding Kuwaiti beauty blogger Sondos Al Qattan, who sparked fury after her online rant over new laws that allow Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait one day off a week and access to their passports.
'How can anyone be OK with slavery?'
Njeim, who herself has a quarter of a million followers on Instagram, called for more responsibility on social media when speaking to The National: "I feel it's very irresponsible of her to say what she said. You need to think twice before you post something because it's not your salon and you're not talking to your family. That's not restricting freedom of speech, but you're talking about enslavement. This is not me telling you not to say what you think, or some question of democracy. You're advertising modern day slavery – how can anyone be OK with that?"
Njeim was in Dubai this weekend to publicise the Shadow of the Tomb Raider video game, in which she returns to the franchise to voice the Arabic version of Lara Croft. The actress said she hoped that strong female characters like Lara Croft could act as an inspiration to women in the region, even if certain bloggers may be selective about where empowerment should take place: "When you're in a market that is moving towards empowering women, and you have games like Tomb Raider empowering women, everything's moving forward, and then you have someone with millions of followers online who decides one day to wake up and be upset because the girl who helps her out at home needs a day off per week, that's not something that's OK, so no, I don't condone that. But I also don't condone what's been done to her since either, I don't condone the backlash and the bullying because it's a vicious cycle. Let's just be responsible on both sides."
Lara: 'The first localised video game' is back
Njeim first voiced the character of Lara Croft in 2013's Tomb Raider game – the very first major international release to feature a fully localised Arabic version, alongside French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian options, and Njeim seems thrilled to be back as the gun-toting archaeologist: "I was hoping to come back, not expecting, but hoping because you're always looking for a job that you love to do. People still talk about the first one on social media. I'm like 'how do they even remember? It's five years ago," she says.
“It was a big deal, though. The first localised video game, Lara is an iconic female lead. It’s not to be taken lightly and that’s why people remember it to this day. It’s amazing - I can’t even remember what I did yesterday, but gamers are a loyal crowd. If you give them good content and you grab that loyalty they won’t let it go easily.”
Njeim has also appeared in a number of TV shows, such as Ghazlel Baneit, since she handed over the Miss Lebanon crown to focus on her acting career back in 2008. I ask her how the challenge of voicing a computer game differs from appearing on TV: "They do the English version, then you get a script translated into Arabic. You just have the words. You don't have the scenes to watch, so technically it's really difficult. It's not like you and I having a conversation, you have to have the same emotion in a very technical situation with nothing in front of you. You have to really know the character. If you don't know who Lara is you will not do a good job. It's impossible."
Nadine in her Miss Lebanon days:
Njeim says that she learned who Lara is from a combination of the Tomb Raider movies and previous games, and although she admits that the environment for recording game voiceovers is a challenging, perhaps even slightly sterile one, she insists that just as much acting talent is required to complete the job: "This isn't a game where there's just words on a script and there's no real feeling," she insists. "Lara has every feeling that a human has. Jealousy, anger, resilience, strength, pain, sadness, everything is in the game. It's like a movie in a game, and in Arabic too. Arabic is a beautiful language but it's also a very difficult one. Trying to fit all those emotions and words and vocalisation within the timeframe is a near-impossible mission."
Njeim adds that she's a keen gamer herself, although she admits she's been on something of a hiatus since the 2013 Tomb Raider was released: "To be honest, nothing out there really interested me," she says.
The star seems confident that the new game is just what is needed to reignite her love of gaming, and hopefully inspire plenty of other gamers too: "I'm really excited for Shadow of the Tomb Raider coming out because it's really put me back in the zone when it comes to gaming. Honestly, it's a great game. I know what the gamer's going to learn, and believe me it's good. Gamers are a tough crowd, but when they're still commenting on a game you did five years ago, that's amazing, and I'm sure this game will prove just as successful."
*Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases on September 14