15 Times The Middle East Made History At The Oscars

BY Delara Zand / Feb 27 2019 / 15:26 PM

From the first ever Arab submission to the Academy Awards in 1959 to *that* Elie Saab dress worn by Halle Berry...

15 Times The Middle East Made History At The Oscars
From left: Oscar-winning 'The Salesman' (2017) and 'A Separation' (2007)

The 91st Academy Awards ceremony hasn’t yet taken place and the region has already been breaking records – the names Nadine Labaki, Rami Malek and Talal Derki come to mind. The world is starting to take more notice of regional talent and creativity, and we're beginning to see that reflected in the awards ceremony. Ahead of 24 February, we've rounded up the most defining moments for the region in Oscar history…

1. 1959 - Cairo Station is Egypt's first Oscars submission


It was not nominated, but it marked the momentous first Arab submission to the Academy Awards. Youssef Chahine's film centeres around events at Cairo train station, and follows a young man selling newspapers there. 

2. 1963 - Omar Sharif is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Lawrence of Arabia


Arguably one of the world's biggest and most charismatic filmstars, Omar Sharif was the first Arab actor to obtain an Oscars nomination for his much-loved role in the historical epic. 

3. 1970 - Z wins the award for Best Foreign Language film


Z, a French-Algerian production by Costa-Gavras set against the backdrop of a coup in Greece, was the first Middle Eastern or North African film to be nominated for or to win an Oscar. Algeria has had much cinematic success with many more nominations in the category since then: they were nominated again in 1983 for Le Bal, in 1995 for Dust of Life, in 2006 for Days of Glory and again in 2010 for Outside the Law. 

4. 2002 – Halle Berry wears Elie Saab to win the Best Actress award

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She made history as the first African-American to win the accolade, wearing that unforgettable burgundy Elie Saab gown with a sheer bodice (it even has its own Wikipedia page). She opted for another dress by the Lebanese designer at the Academy Awards the following year. 

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5. 2005 - Paradise Now is nominated for Best Foreign Language film


The film was the first Foreign Language film nominee in the Arabic language and first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Oscar. The director, Hany Abu-Assad, was nominated again in 2014 for Omar, the screenplay for which he allegedly wrote in four days. 

6. 2009 - Angelina Jolie wears Elie Saab 

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Angelina Jolie went for a strapless, simple-yet-stunning Elie Saab gown at the 2009 Oscars, when she was up for the Best Actress award for her role in Changeling. 

7. 2012 – A Separation wins the Best Foreign Language film award


Iran’s Asghar Farhadi rose to prominence on the international stage for his captivating yet subtle family drama exploring difficult moral dilemmas, through protagonists Nader and Simin's divorce; it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. 

8. 2012 – Jennifer Lopez’s Zuhair Murad gown

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J-Lo donned this gorgeous shimmering dress with plunging neckline by one of her go-to designers, Lebanese Zuhair Murad, to present at the 84th Academy Awards.

9. 2015 – Arab designers ruling the red carpet

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Emma Stone and Jennifer Lopez in Elie Saab and Lady Gaga in Azzedine Alaïa, Arab designers were behind 2015's most memorable red-carpet looks.  

10. 2017 – The Salesman wins Best Foreign Language film


Iran’s Asghar Farhadi won Best Foreign Language film again with The Salesman, but he and the critically-acclaimed cast chose to boycott the ceremony in protest against the US travel ban. 

11. 2018 – The Insult is nominated for Best Foreign Language film



Lebanon gained its first nomination last year for this courtroom drama examining the social divisions caused by a trivial incident between two communities, and the cast and creative team dazzled on the red carpet, with cast members Rita Hayek and Diamand Bou Abboud and screenwriter Joëlle Touma appropriately donning Elie Saab ready-to-wear. 

12. 2018 - Little Gandi is Syria's first Oscars submission 


This documentary film about an activist promoting nonviolent protest was Syria's debut Foreign Lanauge Film submission. 

13. 2018 - Middle Eastern designers ruling the red carpet (again)

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Zoey Deutch in Elie Saab, Helen Mirren in Rami Al Ali and Rita Ora in Zuhair Murad Haute Couture show Middle Eastern designers dominating the celebrated Oscars looks yet again. 

14. 2019 – Capernaum nominated for Best Foreign Language Film award


With this nomination, Nadine Labaki became the female Arab director to be nominated for the award, for her film telling the moving story of child poverty, homelessness and displacement in Lebanon. The film has already won the Grand Jury Prize (and a fifteen-minute standing ovation) at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. 

15. 2019 – Rami Malek nominated for Best Actor and Of Fathers and Sons nominated for Best Documentary Feature


We can't omit these significant nominations for both Egyptian-American Rami Malek, who won the Golden Globe award for his performance in Bohemian Rhapsody and has previously cited Omar Sharif as an inspiraiton, and for Syrian director Talal Derki, whose chilling documentary was awarded the Sundance World Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. 

Press play to have a look at the most iconic Oscars gowns in history...