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The historic Vista Theatre in Silver Lake was filled with guests clad in head-to-toe Miu Miu on Friday for the world premiere of the Italian fashion house’s 17th edition of its Women’s Tales series that empowers female directors.
“It’s really wild to think about now, because it’s very in vogue to be seeking out female directors, but when they started this series [in 2012] that was not the case,” Hailey Gates told The Hollywood Reporter.
As a fan of the series, citing both Lucrecia Martel’s and Miranda July’s projects as reference points, Gates knew that the story had to be compelling. (Ava DuVernay, Zoe Cassavetes and Chloe Sevigny are other past participants).
Fortunately, inspiration came quickly. For a separate documentary project, the 28-year-old model and States of Undress host was researching fake Iraqi and Afghan villages built on military bases in the U.S. to train soldiers; she began to interview its denizens and the story of Shako Mako unfolded.
“[Shako Mako is] really an extraordinary Iraqi sort of slang phrase and the loose translation would be, ‘What’s up?’ But if you translate it more literally, the question is: ‘What is everything, and nothing?’ which is a very existential question to have as a colloquialism. I thought it perfectly encapsulated the film.”
Gates follows the story of young actress Laila in “a portrait of a strange and uniquely American world,” says Gates, that’s steeped in comedy, the hidden poetry of the Iraqi language, and a behind-the-scenes chemistry that escapes through the lens.
Laila wears a pink dress that signifies how “when role players go out to the base to work, they move into the villages for three-week periods, so I was sort of imagining her packing her bag and deciding what extremely frivolous items she would bring to do her audition tapes in,” said Gates.
“And I actually wrote the part for her,” Gates said of her lead, Alia Shawkat. “She’s a friend of mine and I’ve always wanted to work with her and I knew that she’s Iraqi and I just thought she was the perfect person for the job.”
She continued: “There are a couple of jokes in it that are about her. There’s particular jokes about her physicality, because I think, in some ways, we wouldn’t necessarily expect an Iraqi to have freckles. So there are jokes about her sort of just trying to find a place in a space that’s very strange and welcoming in all of the weirdest ways.”
Throughout the 16-minute short, those same jokes garnered laughter and applause from an audience that included Miley Cyrus, actress Rowan Blanchard and musicians Kelela and Kilo Kish.
Before hitting Cafe Stella for celebratory champagne and pasta with the rest of the crowd, Amandla Stenberg noted, “It’s nice sometimes, a breath of fresh air, to see an exploration of uncomfortable topics — or at least things that are charged and politicized in a way that isn’t hefty and weighty. I feel like, recently, no one has been allowed to do that. But sometimes that’s a necessary aspect of understanding something and unpacking it.”
Jaime King agreed: “It’s hitting the nail on the head…embracing the culture and truth about what’s going on in the country and how we perceive ethnicity, people’s backgrounds and what they’re going through. Hopefully, we are at a point where we understand that we need to create a space for not only women, but women of different backgrounds and women of color to tell their stories, because this world is a big and beautiful place and all women deserve to look at the screen and have their stories told.”
Miu Miu Women’s Tales 17 ‘Shako Mako’ written and directed by @haileybentongates ? Her film is a truly honest, poignant, sharp and fearlessly insightful story. Miu Miu has been giving women the opportunity to write, direct and make their stories with unflinching beauty and truth for years. The understanding that we have meaningful conversations and contributions to share with the world Women’s Tales has now spawned 14 works from women exploring the feminine universe, all fully financed and produced by Prada. They are all loosely inspired by Miu Miu clothes and accessories, but with no obligation for these products to be shown on the screen. I am honored and grateful to be a part of this house for 25 years with Miuccia Prada and every brilliant human being on the team. Congratulations to Hailey, the entire cast and crew! #womensupportingwomen @bfa
A post shared by Jaime King (@jaime_king) on
Musician Alana Haim expressed her admiration for Shawkat: “I was such a fan girl over her when I was hella young and now I’m still such a fan girl for her; I think she’s such a good actress,”
After viewing her own work, Shawkat noted, “I was so excited that it came to fruition. I think it has heart.”
Up next for the actress, who noted she rarely has the opportunity to step into the role of an Iraqi woman, is another chance to delve into her roots: “I’m writing something right now, and it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written,” she said. “This is going to be about me and my family. It’s probably the character I relate to the most, although I think I relate to everyone that I’m lucky enough to play.”
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