Meet The Lebanese young women that made it to the Oscars this year

Posted: February 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Elie Saab, Zuhair Mourad, Mireille Dagher, Charbel Zoey and Tony Ward were all Lebanese names that made it somehow to the red carpet through their beautiful dresses that were worn by different celebrities. But at the Oscars this year, there was a distinguished young lady who made it to the main stage with an achievement that is more relevant to the film industry.

Rhianna Shaheen earned herself a trip to the Oscars, and a spot within Team Oscar 2015 thanks to her 60 second film.

This competition was launched last year, and Rhianna was in an overwhelming shock when she heard Channing Tatum saying her name among other winners of the 2nd edition live with Jimmy Kimmel. One of her responsibilities during the even was to hand out Oscars Statuettes to presenters for several categories.

Rhianna is a 23 years old Virginia Beach resident who graduated last year from Bryn Mar College in Film studies. She is a third generation Lebanese and very proud of her roots And I had the privilege of getting to know her, and being granted the chance to interview her.

Here’s what she had to say about her amazing experience and her Lebanese roots.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College (last year to be exact). I majored in Fine Arts and minored in Film Studies. During my time there, I found that I really enjoyed storytelling and was very passionate about media representation

I’m currently unemployed on the east coast but I’m hoping that this Team Oscar opportunity will change that and open doors!

Your short movie earned you a trip to the Oscars, how did you know about the competition and what Can you tell me about your production process?

I heard about the contest last year and I wanted to apply but I was too busy with my thesis and school work. I decided that if I didn’t have anything going for me the next year then I would apply. It felt like a shot in the dark so I tried not to put too much effort into the short while still letting my passion shine through. I finished it in 2 days with a small camera and no budget. With myself as the actor it felt fairly easy, but my chances still felt low since everyone’s entries looked so much better.

 And the advice you talked about in your film worked out really good for you. Who gave you that advice?

My film professor in college. She has experience in LA and she knows the industry is difficult. She wanted to make sure that we made our own opportunities and not expect them to be handed to us. That was especially true for this trip. I had to really put myself out there to make connections and talk to the important people.

Rhianna (Right) with Team Oscar 2015

Rhianna (Right) with Team Oscar 2015

What was your most valuable contacts during this trip?

We went on a tour of the Warner Bros. Studio lot where we had lunch with one of the granddaughters of it’s original founders. She was really invested in our stories and our futures.

We also met one of the writers from the Oscars who also writes for popular shows like The Flash, Arrow, and soon Super Girl. He really wanted us to get connected to internships with their productions, so that the trip would be worthwhile! Hopefully that will work out!

I knew that you were dreaming of meeting Meryl Streep, Did it happen? and if it did what was it like?

Yes! It did happen!! It was incredible! She came backstage for rehearsals the day before the Oscars. We all knew the times for each award, but I was so not prepared for her arrival. It was like an apparition came into the room. I was in shock. She was so joyful and enthusiastic. After she did her thing, she came back and talked to us and asked us about the contest. I was trying not to cry, but when I told her how much she meant to me she grabbed me in an embrace and kissed me on the cheek. I lost it after that! She took a picture with us too! She was more than generous with her time.

She is very kind and supportive of young people! It’s surprising when your idols end up being exactly as you hope


Photo by Lauren Elizabeth Randolph. Backstage of the 87th Academy Awards

 Part of the trip was a special responsibility given to you guys to hand Oscars for the presenters, Who did you end up handing an Oscar to or to which categories were you assigned?

I did Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Screenplay (Birdman), Best Live Action Short (The Phone Call), Production Design (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Best Visual Effects (Interstellar) I think that was it!

I could not help to notice that your last name is from Arabic origin. I am guessing Lebanese?

Yes, I am third generation Lebanese. My great grandparents immigrated here at the ages of 19. They were a family of farmers I believe.

 Do you have any connections with your home country? Do you know anything about it? from which village you came from?

I know my great grandparents were part of a big family. I think my dad definitely knows more than I do. I only have pictures of them. My strong connections are now my college friends who come from all over that region. Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine. But I’m definitely working on rediscovering my roots! It’s very important to me.

Have you ever visited Lebanon? or are you planing to visit soon?

Not yet but I would definitely like to. My friends want me to visit them in Palestine. Lebanon is definitely on my bucket list! I’d even love to shoot a film or documentary there in the future. I feel like the independent film community there could be really great!!

do you have any insights about Arabic Cinema in general and Lebanese Cinema in particular?

I don’t know if I’m particularly learned in those cinemas. I did read a lot of Edward Said in college. I know of the contributions of Arab Americans like Casey Kasem in Hollywood, but I’m definitely trying to broaden my knowledge and become more aware of the international film community.

While Filmimng the Team Oscar 2015 promo

While Filming the Team Oscar 2015 promo

What advice would you give to young people who are really passionate about this industry and would dream of making it to LA?

Have a really clear vision of what you want to do. Be confident in your voice as a filmmaker and artist. Stick to your convictions for sure. You have to really love what you do in the good times and the bad. I believe if you do all those things it can happen for you. You just have to be proactive and make it happen in the moment. Dreams are sweet but if you work on it a little each day it can become more than a dream!

Any last words for your fellow Lebanese future filmmakers?

Sorta along the same lines. I am very white, but I understand that Hollywood is a very difficult place for Arab filmmakers and actors. That being said, I think things are changing. You can’t expect things to change on their own. You make that change. Just because you do not see yourself on screen or on the stage do not believe that is not possible. Tell your stories, because they are important.

You do not need Hollywood…Hollywood needs you!!

Hollywood Needs us indeed! Thank you Rhianna for giving us inspiration and thank you for making us feel proud, not just because you walked on that infamous red carpet with your head held high, but because you don’t know much about your Origin country but yet you are so eager to discover and so proud of your lebanese last name, in the hopes that the Lebanese community will truly acknowledge your achievement.


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