There is a moment in Black Gold, the partly Qatari-funded film about the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula of the 1930s, when the two Arab princes meet in the desert, surveying the empty dunes that have suddenly become so valuable to them. The audience is meant to identify with either the traditional Prince Auda or the ultra-moderniser Emir Nesib. It is a moment that asks the audience to choose sides, to pick ideologies, to imagine what type of nation they would build themselves.
Films can be more than mere entertainment, they can tell people the stories of themselves and the stories of their nations. Black Gold can be read as a foundation myth for the modern Gulf states, a way of articulating the tensions between the old and the new, between competing visions of what these new nations are and will be, inherent in the foundation and rise of new countries.
Black Gold is the third full-length feature film of recent years that puts the region on the big screen and explicitly tries to tell a story about a nation. City of Life was the first Emirati film to do that, followed by Sea Shadow.
To watch them is to watch an evolving narrative about the collective identities of the Gulf countries, to see the themes that will one day form the bedrock of visions of the region.
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