Nayla Al Khaja: The Emirati Filmmaker Who's Making a Mark in Hollywood as the UAE's First Female Film Director

April 20, 2023 : Nayla Al Khaja, the first female film writer, director, and producer in the United Arab Emirates, has made it her mission to diversify storytelling in the entertainment industry. Despite being a double minority, Al Khaja has received numerous accolades, including being named one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Personalities in Arab Cinema and receiving the Visionary of the Year Award at the Arabian Business Awards. She has written and directed several films, all presented and awarded at various international film festivals.

Al Khaja’s childhood struggles inspire her storytelling, which she describes as “neurotic, dark, and grim.” Her stories have received positive reactions from the Western world of Cinema and bridge the gap between the East and the West. Academy Award-winning directors and producers are picking up her work, and her first feature film, Three, is set to release later this year and will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

Being the first female Emirati filmmaker and director meant Al Khaja had no role models who looked or sounded like her. Still, she overcame her fear and exercised her creativity to succeed. Al Khaja wants to share her culture’s perspective through her storytelling, and she believes it’s time for diverse stories to be told. “My challenge wasn’t just being a woman. My challenge was being in a space that does not acknowledge what I am doing,” she said.

Al Khaja’s achievement is significant, especially considering it has taken decades for female directors to achieve similar success in the United States. Despite being a relatively young country, the UAE is positioning itself as a hub for creativity and innovation, with Al Khaja leading the charge towards a more diverse and inclusive entertainment industry.