Afghanistan’s largest TV channel, a Hulu comedy about an Egyptian immigrant family in New Jersey and a French series about Nazi occupation during World War II all garnered awards during the 9th annual America Abroad Media (AAM) gala.
The Dec. 15 virtual event, hosted by CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga, “recognizes the power of media, both journalism and filmmaking, to raise awareness of critical global issues and advance our common humanity.”
Aaron R. Lobel, founder and president of AAM, said it was especially important to recognize Afghanistan’s Tolo TV in light of the ongoing humanitarian disaster sparked by the Taliban’s violent takeover this past summer.
“We actually honored them five years ago, but we thought that with everything going on in Afghanistan, they really warranted another award for their courage and resilience,” said Lobel.
“Then we have the Hulu TV series Ramy, which really was groundbreaking in exploring the life of an immigrant Muslim-American family through hilarious comedy, and ‘The French Village,’” he said. “While it’s fictitious, the series is actually very historically authentic, nuanced and unflinchingly honest in looking back at a controversial time in French history.”
And finally, Lobel said, “we wanted to highlight—one year after the Abraham Accords—the potential for film and TV collaboration between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The cultural peace is in some ways the most important piece, and the most challenging.”
Margaret Brennan, who moderates the CBS News program Face the Nation, presented the AAM Award to Saad Mohseni, chairman and CEO of Tolo TV.
“This really is an award for the Afghan media family, which has done so much over the last 20 years and continues to do so much, inside and outside Afghanistan,” said Mohseni in accepting the honor on behalf of his TV channel, which continues to broadcast despite Taliban rule.
As long as US forces were in the country, Afghanistan was allowed to flourish and, in fact, became quite democratic, said Mohseni.
“The international community provided us with a degree of security that allowed the media sector to develop,” he told Brennan. “What’s happened to date partially reflects the Taliban not having enough bandwidth to deal with the media. It’s going to become a lot more restrictive. As to whether we can continue to operate within the country, I think it’s a 50-50 thing.”
Interviewed separately from their new home in Spain were Feridoon Aryan, former head of AAM’s Kabul office, and his wife, Dr. Nooria Aryan Fakhree. The couple, along with their two small children, rushed to the airport but were severely beaten by the Taliban and unable to enter, despite having a valid evacuation document. Eventually, the family made its way to Pakistan and to Spain, where they received refugee status and a standing ovation in the Spanish Parliament.
“The last couple of months have been extremely difficult for us as a family, constantly at risk and fear of retaliation,” said Aryan. “With the years of working for what we believed were values that were very dear to us. But all that was snatched from us, very quickly, just in the blink of an eye. We thought there was a future for our children. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”
In the end, he said, “it all came to saving ourselves with our clothes, a couple pairs of shoes and our documents.”
Next came the acclaimed TV series “A French Village,” with producer Emmanuel Daucé, director Frédéric Krivine, and actors Robin Renucci and Marie Kremer. Charles H. Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association and former US ambassador to France, congratulated Jean-Francois Boyer, president of Tetra Media.
“It’s an honor for me to present this award for such a beautifully written show, and loved by millions of viewers around the world,” said Rivlin, speaking in fluent French. “Even though it is set in the fictional village of Villeneuve, it shows a French countryside ‘par excellence.’”
In addition, actor, writer, producer and director Ramy Youssef and actress May Calamawy spoke with actor Mahershala Ali. The award was presented by Amna Nawaz, senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour, to Billy Rosenberg, Hulu’s senior vice-president of content development for comedy.
Finally, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, spoke with Hans Franklin, Abu Dhabi’s film commissioner, and Avi Nir, CEO of the Keshet Media Group, on the occasion of the first anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties between the two Middle East nations.
“In the last year, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise turbulent Middle East has been the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Morocco and Sudan,” said Golodryga. “The accords have also created opportunities to connect Israelis and Emiratis through collaborations in storytelling and film.”
Added UAE’s Al Otaiba: “The trade and economic piece of the Abraham Accords is already flourishing, and I was never really worried about it. That, to be honest, was always going to succeed. Business communities around the world typically find each other, and find deals that work for both sides. The part I’m most excited about, and what reflects a bigger breakthrough, is the cultural understanding—this breaking of a taboo that we cannot work with Israel in any field because of politics.”