IM -ensaai 1621 // Th StatementS
Wednesday, April 5B
It's an old adage : When you get to
the top, don't forget the little people.
Student director and LSA senior Zain-
eb Abdul-Nabi has already found her
footing in film, but she certainly hasn't
forgotten the little people along the
As a Screen Arts and Culture major,
Abdul-Nabi applied and won the chance
to join "Team Oscar" last fall, part of
which included presenting Oscar stat-
uettes to celebrities during the 2014
Academy Awards. While it's easy to
get caught up in the glamour of being
at a show like the Oscar's, Abdul-Nabi's
SAC background kept her grounded in
what she values most: the inner work-
"I just love knowing what's going on
behind the scenes, because what you
see on TV is always very put together,"
Abdul-Nabi said. "So it was really inter-
esting just to see how everyone collabo-
rates together backstage."
Humility and thoughtfulness: words
that embody Zaineb and her philoso-
phy toward film. Born in the Bronx
as the youngest of four siblings, she
pushed outside of the family's comfort
zone by leaving New York and coming
to the University on an engineering
scholarship. She wanted to be a doctor,
so she decided to pursue biomedical
engineering. But when her Engineer-
ing classes proved to be less fulfilling
than she hoped, she took a SAC class on
"I took SAC 236, which is an intro-
ductory film course, and I loved it,"
Abdul-Nabi said. "It was one of the first
classes in my college career that, yeah,
I had to stay up late writing papers, but
it still was worth it and I still enjoyed
staying up late to write those papers."
She made the dramatic shift from
engineering to SAC, crediting her fam-
ily's habit of watching old foreign films
together as the catalyst for her interest.
"I always loved watching (old films),
and now I'm learning how to make
At the University Abdul-Nabi was
involved with both the Muslim Stu-
dents Association and Students Allied
for Freedom and Equality - an activ-
ist group at the center of the UMDivest
Movement. She worked with MSA to
develop a media system in which their
lectures and events could be viewed
online, making the issues they discuss
accessible to more than just Michigan
Though she hasn't had many oppor-
tunities to make her own films yet,
Abdul-Nabi strives to focus on simple
examples of humanity rather than
over-the-top production, once again
remembering the little people, the
ones backstage or behind the scenes.
To apply for the "Team Oscar," she has
to submit a short film and essay. For
her film she went to Eastern Market
in Detroit, filming people's faces and
then focusing in on their hands, illus-
trating the depth that can be found in
people's everyday activities. The film
wasn't about the "hands" themselves,
but about the stories that were carried
in the hands.
"They didn't talk about their hands,"
Abdul-Nabi said. "But it's just about the
way we connect people to their hands
and what hands can tell us about a per-
As she begins envisioning her future
after her time at the University, Abdul-
Nabi values discovering an area of pas-
sion within the film industry - though
she admits with a laugh that her first
goal is just "surviving."
"I really hope I can find something
that I'm passionate about in the film
industry and not just take the job just
because it's going to pay a bill or some-
thing," she said. "I don't want it to just
be a weird job here and there - I hope
that they kind of affirm my love of the
regular people, the everyday kind of
B Y U A LI E G AD B OIS
As a child, Music, Theatre & Dance senior
Mary Naoum was singing and dancing before
she could create coherent sentences, much to
the entertainment of her older siblings who
encouraged her with piano accompaniment.
With her long-running love of performing
and the arts, Naoum came to the University
not to pursue her own path to stardom, but to
learn how her craft could be used to empower
others and affect change in communities.
Naoum will receive a B.A. in Theatre Arts
with a concentration in Performing Arts Man-
agement and a minor inCommunity Action
and Social Change (CASC) in May. Her aca-
demic career has been a fusion of arts and
social justice, but she is quick to say that most
of her learning and inspiration has come out-
side the classroom.
After volunteering with Detroit Partner-
ship her freshman year, Naoum sought out
an internship with Motor City Lyric Opera,
a nonprofit arts organization in Detroit. She
also volunteered with its Opera on Wheels
program, which brings an operatic produc-
tion to different elementary schools in the
Naoum said the experience made her rec-
ognize the potential of art in education.
"Whoa, opera's great, music is great, but
what I really like is the positive impact it has
on these students and the empowering pro-
cess," she said.
Excited by this type of work, Naoum
moved on to the Prison Creative Arts Project
with English Prof. Buzz Alexander. The class
produced a play with young men in juvenile
detention. Naoum singlehandedly brought
one young man from a hangdog refuser in the
corner to a full-on participant who now and
dreams of an acting career.
"That's when I really realized I'm not just
doing this for fun, combining 'social justice'
and 'theatre,'" Noaum said. "The combination
of those two things is actually incredibly pow-
Naoum involved herself with Michigan Per-
formance Outreach Workshop (MPOW) from
its inception. MPOW is a student organization
that holds a free field trip event on campus for
Detroit public school students and has an out-
reach Shakespeare puppet troupe for younger
students, among other things.
"We do improv, a capella, dance, beat mak-
ing - all different kinds of creative expres-
sion," Naoum said. "It's challenging because
in schools you're constantly having to put
information into your head and you're not
challenged to think for yourself. It's an oppor-
tunity to say to the kids: this is all you, nothing
you're going to do is wrong, and everything
you're doing is creative and original."
Tireless and eager to do more, Naoum
worked for Matrix Theatre Company, atcom-
munity empowerment theatre in southwest
Detroit. Participating in marches and com-
munity events, Matrix brings its giant, beauti-
ful puppets ofleaders in civil rights, disability
rights and other movements to teach people
about their history and brave leaders. Their
education program focuses on a social theme,
such as environmental justice, teaching the
kids about the issue, and then facilitating the
children's creation and production of original
plays centered on it.
"It's this awesome fusion of learning about
social justice issues and then also beingsocial
justice through having the kids be in charge
of creating these plays empowering them-
selves around these issues that they just
learned about, and then performing them,"
Citing Kendrick Lamar's "Good Kid, Bad
City" as a perfect example of using artis-
tic expression to incite open-mindedness,
Naoum explained why the arts can be a pow-
erful tool for social change.
"Here's a Black artist using hip-hop music
to transform people's beliefs and understand-
ings of growing up in a low-income urban
area. Not by literally preaching: 'stop doing
drugs and stop stealing, be better.' He tells a
narrative that embodies his own coming of
age ... that can be shared with others to help
them transform their existence."
After graduation, Naoum will take a year
to live and work in Detroit, and then head
to a masters program at the School of Social
Work. Naoum shares some advice for under-
"Get involved in organizations. My advice
for everything is just to listen. Listen to the
people you're working with. What they want
and think. It's never about you - well I guess
in some regards its about both of you; it's
about getting everybody involved."
out of the University's total student popu- experience in both CSG and LSA student
lation - possess a specific set of concerns government, has spent two years on the
that are often overlooked, such as diffi- University's Model United Nations team
culty finding housing, challenges in sched- and is aresidential adviser atOxford house.
uling classes and being forced to adapt to Identifying as openly gay and a first-
new academic styles. generation college student, Mesman said
Mesman added that students transfer the University has exposed him to a wide
for a variety of reasons - grades, finances range of different identities, which he
and location among others- and hail from embraces in his work with CSG and Res-
"My greatest advice would be to try
something that you couldn't dobefore, just
go completely out of your comfort zone,"he
said. "If it's something that you even have
the faintestdesire to do, just try it and see
how it goes.