We can safely say that 2023 was Rawan Mahdi’s year. The talented emerging Iraqi-born Kuwaiti-raised actress caught her big break this year with the release of Netflix’s original series “The Exchange” which proved to be a major hit for the streaming giant. Set in 1987, Rawan plays a single mother struggling to make ends meet for her family who’s drive and ambition eventually lead her to the male-dominated Kuwaiti-Stock Exchange.
Rawan doesn’t just play the role, she embodies it and tells from a female-lead’s perspective; one that breaks glass ceilings, challenges the patriarchy and shatters stereotypes that women around the world have faced for years in the workplace. Moreover, we don’t see many of these stories and struggles highlighted from region, especially not from Kuwait, making Rawan’s role all the more noteworthy and in this case, memorable.
For the month of August, Rawan talks exclusively to Fashion Trust Arabia about her passion for acting, the importance of nurturing talents and creatives from the Middle East, her favorite Arab designer and more.
What is one lesson you took from playing a such a strong character like Farida who was also able to overcome so many obstacles as a woman in the Middle East tackling the male-dominated field she was in?
Well, Farida’s character to me is an ode to every single woman who did not give up on herself, and danced to the beat of her own drum, she defied rules and made up her own. In other words, Farida is a symbol of women’s advancement and their ability to achieve what they believe in.
Did you ever think that you would be able to achieve your passion as an actress? Are you doing what you love the most?
I give my work my all and I am doing what I love the most and I only want more, I don’t see myself limited to acting now, I see myself everywhere. I am a believer in consistency and thinking outside the box, you know, one is always lucky to find any type of passion in life, we try to find it in everything we do, so, passion for me really became more of a way of life, not just a destination, it’s something that lives through you. You can go to the lowest bottom, but (passion) is always there to wake you and shake you up.
Do you feel like creatives in the Middle East are getting the recognition they deserve and is there enough being done?
This is a question I ask myself a lot, we do get recognition and we do get credit, but if you ask me is it really enough? I don’t think so. I mean, do we, the talents of the region, find that a lot can be done to embrace our talents and build the industry in the region? Yes, we do. But a lot of efforts HAVE been made and we have made big progress over the years, and one of the efforts for me is The Exchange. Therefore, I think we should keep trying and keep believing that we are building something together here.
What kind of efforts would you like to see more of?
I would definitely like to see more stories, more studios, more techniques, we definitely need more people in the art directing and styling departments. We need more coaching; we need more agencies discovering new talents and guiding them.
What advice would you give to an Arab Creative who would like to achieve their dreams/goals regardless of the obstacles?
One piece of advice I would give to anyone looking to venture into the world of movies and series, is to absolutely let go. It’s all about letting go, don’t be afraid of doing it wrong, you have to go all the way. Sometimes you have to reach your maximum potential in order to reach excellence, by learning more and more about yourself and your body. Filmmaking is an art, it’s an expression of yourself and of the world. Always believe in yourself and always listen to your inner voice. I would definitely love for all of us try to pursue more unique and rich stories from our region.
As a Kuwaiti woman do you think you are shattering stereotypes if any?
I can say, yes, we are changing day by day, I mean the future is just on the horizon and it looks very, VERY exciting.
What is the role if any you aspire to play? And why? Or is there a role in a movie you loved you could have wished to play?
The role that I loved and wish to play ( I mean there are a lot) but it’s definitely going to be Uma Thurman’s role in Kill Bill by Tarantino because it’s obviously a very challenging role and that’s what attracts me to a role or character. It includes everything, physical training, deep character development, emotions, tough situations, struggles, humanity, plots, and this whole complex journey of a character who finds herself facing tough and terrifying situations. That’s the beauty of it for me, just to drown deep in a strong character that requires a lot of work and dedication.
Can you share your thoughts with us on the fashion industry in the region and the role that Fashion Trust Arabia plays in supporting and highlighting these up-and-coming designers.
I think it’s very VERY important to have this kind of support, like Fashion Trust, to introduce Arab talents to each other and to the world in the same way we hope to try to build an industry of filmmaking, achieving higher standards of TV shows, developing quality characters in stories that are both better and deeper. I think the only way this could happen is through collaborations with Arab talents from the region, by blending cultures, education, the struggles and experience in our work and in fashion. In order for us to have an identity in fashion, filmmaking and TV shows, it starts with having this kind of support, and I hope it grows and the support continues. I am one of the people who appreciate that and I know every artist does as well.
And with regards to emerging fashion designers or brands do any stand out to you? Any favorite brands or designers?
My favorite Kuwaiti brand is called “The Open Season” it’s founded by an amazing artist Haidar, who is a designer, singer and rapper, he’s a beautiful artist in every way. He has strong visions through his designs that carry powerful messages of humanity, love, unity, acceptance, diversity. Each collection has it’s own different messages that he puts together in a beautiful way through his designs whether it’s a gown or casual outfit. When I wear his designs, I feel something in each piece. For me that’s how I love to portray fashion.