Young Syrian refugee actor meets Lady Gaga at Governors Awards

The 'Capernaum' star, 14, joined Lebanese director Nadine Labaki at the glitzy Hollywood event

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Steven Spielberg, Cicely Tyson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Glenn Close, Oprah, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Harrison Ford, Lupita Nyong'o: these are just some of the celebrities that attended the lively Governors Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles.

And among them was Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, and the star of her film Capernaum, Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who now lives in Norway with his family.

Labaki shared moments on her Insta stories showing Zain meeting Lady Gaga, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman (see video above).

2018 Governors Awards - Arrivals - Hollywood, California, U.S., November 18, 2018 - Nadine Labaki, Zain Al Rafih and Khaled Mouzanar. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Nadine Labaki, Zain Al Rafih and Khaled Mouzanar at the 2018 Governor's Awards. 

Most of Capernaum's cast are children who were living on the streets that Labaki met in Beirut during the two years she spent researching the film. The director told us that her young colleague is rightly proud of the film's success, but is utterly unfazed by the glitz and glamour surrounding it, perhaps unsurprisingly given his background: "He's a tough kid; he's seen so much in his life that all this is nothing," she said. "He's happy, of course, but it stops there. His life is not easy and that's what we need to start looking at. All the kids in this film have very difficult lives and that's what we need to start thinking about. How can this film really make a change in these kids' lives?"

Zain was also in attendance as the film received a standing ovation at the American Film Institute Fest:

The Governors Awards celebrate the careers of the few entertainment veterans who have not yet won an Academy Award by bestowing them with an honorary Oscar statuette. Recipients are voted on by the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Why was Labaki at the Governor's Awards?

The private, untelevised dinner gala at the Hollywood & Highland complex has also become an important stop on the campaign trail to the Academy Awards for some of the year's awards hopefuls, making the event one of the most star-studded of the season. Labaki was likely there because Capernaum, which was awarded the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, has been selected to represent Lebanon in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category at the 2019 Academy Awards.

Labaki and Zain on a train ride across the US: 

In a spin around the room, you could see Nicole Kidman chatting with First Man director Damien Chazelle, Disney CEO Bob Iger leaving his seat next to Ford to meet Lady Gaga, Hanks and Rita Wilson stopping to greet Melissa McCarthy, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt saying hello to Hilary Swank, the cast of Black Panther posing for a photo with Marvel chief Kevin Feige and Lin-Manuel Miranda hanging out with the Crazy Rich Asians cast and, later, Jonah Hill.

- Additional reporting AP

Nadine Labaki – her career to date

1990: Labaki launches her career directing music videos, for which she wins an award on the popular Lebanese talent show Studio El Fan. The videos are notable for their cinematic quality, as well as for their sometimes sexually provocative nature. Labaki continues to direct videos for the show through to its ending in the early 2000s after a four-decade run on Lebanese screens.

1997: Labaki graduates from Beirut's St Joseph University. She is unusual among the Lebanese film making community in that she did not study abroad. Her graduation film, 11 Rue Pasteur, won the Best Short Film Award at the Biennale of Arab Cinema at the Arab World Institute in Paris.


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1998: Labaki attends a workshop in acting at the Cours Florent in Paris. She will go on to appear in many of her own, as well as other directors’, productions as well as directing. She also begins to direct adverts alongside her ongoing music video work.

2003: Labaki begins directing music videos for Lebanese star Nancy Ajram, including her most famous work of this era, the 2003 video for Ajram's Akhasmak Ah (I'll Taunt You). The video aligns Ajram with the Egyptian actress Hind Rostom, "the Marilyn Monroe of Egyptian cinema," and won plenty of fans, particularly in Egypt, as a result. The video also attracted criticism, however, thanks to Ajram's revealing dress and provocative dancing. Palestinian poet Tamim Al Barghouti was among the critics, accusing Arabic pop videos of submitting to Western style in an article in Lebanon's Daily Star.

2005: Labaki takes part in the Cannes Film Festival Residence for six months. During that time, she writes Caramel, her first feature film, which she will go on to direct and star in. The film showcases a Beirut that most people are not familiar with. Rather than tackle political issues, she presents a comedy that deals with five Lebanese women who gather at a beauty salon and deal with issues related to love, sexuality, tradition, disappointment, and everyday ups and downs.

2007: Caramel premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. It sold worldwide and collected prizes at many festivals around the world, garnering Labaki acclaim both as a director and actress. It also put her on Variety's 10 Directors to Watch list at the Sundance Film Festival.

2008: The French Ministry of Culture and Communication awards Labaki the Insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters.

2011: Labaki's second feature, Where Do We Go Now? premieres in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. The film humourously tackles religious tension in a village where a church and a mosque stand side-by-side. It will go on to win the Cadillac People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and pick up awards at festivals including San Sebastián International Film Festival and Stockholm Film Festival. The film is also nominated for best foreign film at the Critics' Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

2014: Labaki sits alongside Lee Daniels on the judging panel for the Dubai International Film Festival's Muhr Awards, and also takes time off to hit the red carpet for the regional premiere of Xavier Beauvois' The Price of Fame, in which she stars. She'll put the judging experience to good use a year later, when she's selected to join the panel for Cannes' Un Certain Regard section.

2018: Capernaum picks up the Jury Prize in Cannes' main competition and receives a 15-minute standing ovation at its premiere, it is now in the running for an Oscar. Is Labaki's career about to go stellar?