Meet one of the young trailblazers in Somalia’s film-making scene who was banned from watching movies as a child

Dollita Okine May 01, 2024
Abshir Rageh (@AbshirRage) / X

Director Abshir Rageh oversees film production at Astaan, a privately held cable television network in Somalia. With tens of millions of views on YouTube, the soap opera “Habboon,” which aired for two seasons and follows a couple navigating traditional and conservative social norms, is one of the biggest television shows the 33-year-old has created, produced, and directed in this Horn of Africa nation in recent years.

His current series, “Dhaxal,” a drama on the complexities of inheritance in Somalia, premiered in April. In addition, Rageh is in charge of several other productions, such as a game show, a comedy show, and a culinary competition.

He told The New York Times, “I focus on storytelling that can change lives.”

“We have to own our own story and show that we are more than that,” he said of his country, Somalia, which is steadily nearing stability following decades of terrorism and factional strife.

Actors and theater enthusiasts alike have found inspiration in his work in the seaside capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. Bashiir Mohamuud Badane, an actor, educator, and artist who has collaborated with Astaan on children’s plays and instructional music videos, stated, “The civil war in Somalia destroyed the creative avenues that allowed us to think through the challenges facing our society. These productions are a lifeline.”

Rageh noted that he was driven to create television programs that challenge the stereotype that most people associate with Somalis, which revolves around terrorism, hunger, and piracy.

Despite this, the renowned director’s career almost didn’t materialize. He was raised in Beledweyne, a town approximately 185 miles northwest of Mogadishu, by market traders who found it difficult to support their eleven children. This was right after the collapse of the Somali state three decades ago.

His family left their home several times as fighting enveloped their farming area, but they never went far from it. The village holds special memories for Rageh, mostly because it inspired his passion for storytelling.

He would often slip out with buddies to a makeshift neighborhood theater that screened Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” films and pirated copies of Indian films.

“My parents never wanted us to go to this cinema,” Rageh recounted. “Movies were seen as sinful and immoral.”

He attended Somalia University in Mogadishu to study public administration after graduating from high school. While there, he got a job filming and editing movies and he eventually started producing short films and public service announcements.

He began working with the then-President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s media team in 2017. His passion for filmmaking, however, led him to join Astaan in 2019. The outlet stated that Rageh’s venture into film production and directing coincided with a pivotal period in Somalia’s history.

Somalia had a strong theater and music scene prior to the start of the civil war in 1991. There was also a tiny cinema industry with directors such as Abdulkadir Ahmed Said.

Yet, since there were no significant productions during the conflict or for many years afterward, Somalis watched shows in Arabic, Mexican, and Turkish. Many Somalis at home were later excited to see themselves on screen as the country began stabilizing and Somali-born filmmakers in the diaspora started releasing more films.

These days, Rageh pushes the dozens of men and women who work on his team but have never attended film school to be multi-hyphenates.

And he is also elated that his mother, who formerly forbade him from watching movies, now routinely watches his shows and receives compliments from neighbors.

“She is very proud,” he declared.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 1, 2024

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