Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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The Game Awards Returns With Glitz and an Industry Asserting Its Muscle

LOS ANGELES — Wearing blazers and bedazzled dresses, downing cocktails, swapping industry gossip, and hobnobbing with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, the stars of America’s video game industry assembled on Thursday night for a long-delayed reunion at the Game Awards.

The lavish event was a victory lap of sorts for the video game community. While the movie industry has fretted over ticket sales and cannibalization by streaming services like Netflix, the video game industry has enjoyed tremendous growth during the pandemic. An estimated 2.9 billion people — more than one out of every three people on the planet — have played a video game this year, according to the video game analytics firm Newzoo.

Thursday’s awards were also a welcome opportunity for the industry to gather under the same roof, since last year’s event was held online because of the pandemic. Gaming luminaries arrived on the red carpet at the vast Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, joined by celebrities better known for their work in other entertainment industries.

Sting, the rock music icon, was backed by an orchestra as he opened the show with a performance of the haunting song “What Could Have Been” from the Netflix series “Arcane,” which is based on the video game hit “League of Legends.” The hit band Imagine Dragons performed “Enemy,” another song featured in “Arcane.”

entertainment award events, you would also have been on the nose.

At the center of the gaming industry’s answer to the Oscars was Geoff Keighley, the video game and television personality who created and hosts the annual event and who tried, with seemingly endless reserves of energy and enthusiasm, to steer an increasingly antsy audience through more than three hours of awards presentations and trailers for upcoming games, interspersed with music from the orchestra.

The show began in 2014 and has attracted millions more eyeballs each year on YouTube and Twitch. Last year’s fully remote version garnered 83 million live streams, according to organizers, and Mr. Keighley said after Thursday’s show that he expected more people to have watched live this year, though preliminary numbers were not yet available.

bnans, said in the crowded lobby after the show. “We’ve been in quarantine for so long, but it’s really nice to actually get to hang out with everyone again and see each other after two years.”

More than two dozen awards were handed out in categories like best action game and best art direction. The most prestigious title, game of the year, went to “It Takes Two,” a two-player puzzle adventure game developed by Hazelight Studios about a married couple navigating a divorce and journeying through a fantastical world.

Microsoft’s gaming division brought home a number of awards, with “Age of Empires IV” winning best strategy game, “Halo Infinite” winning a fan award called players’ voice, and “Forza Horizon 5,” a car-racing game, taking home three honors. “Deathloop,” a first-person shooting game developed by Arkane Studios, also won multiple awards.

The winners were determined by a vote of industry insiders and the general public.

For many watching, though, the awards were just a sideshow. The Game Awards is also used by the industry to introduce new game announcements and debut trailers for upcoming titles. If audience reaction is any indication, the fantasy game “Elden Ring” continues to be one of next year’s most hotly anticipated titles.

debuted on the stock exchange, topping a $45 billion valuation on its first day of trading.

The increased mainstream interest in online worlds has also been a validation for industry insiders and gamers that were using the term “metaverse” years before Mark Zuckerberg decided that Facebook was going to change its name to Meta. Even Mr. Carrey, appearing at the awards show on a prerecorded video, joked about it.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with you, but I look forward to meeting all of your avatars in the metaverse, where we can really get to know each other,” he said.

As the industry has grown, it has faced increasing challenges, none more pressing Thursday night than the treatment of its employees. A shadow was cast over the event by the scandal trailing Activision Blizzard — the game publisher that has been under fire for months following a lawsuit from California accusing it of fostering a workplace environment in which mistreatment and harassment of women was commonplace.

A handful of protesters stood with signs supporting Activision employees outside the theater Thursday evening, and Mr. Keighley faced pressure in the lead-up to the event to condemn the company.

He tweeted last week that Activision would not be a part of the awards show, and he opened the event by saying that “game creators need to be supported by the companies that employ them.”

“We should not, and will not, tolerate any abuse, harassment and predatory practices,” Mr. Keighley said, though he did not mention Activision by name. Rob Kostich, the president of Activision, is on the board of advisers for the Game Awards.

Before the event, Mr. Keighley said in an interview that he wanted to strike a balance between using his platform for good and maintaining the upbeat vibe of an awards show.

“Are we going to use our platform to take companies to task publicly inside the show? It’s always something worth thinking about,” he said, “but it’s not a referendum on the industry.”

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U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory Over Taiwan

At one particularly tense moment, in October 2020, American intelligence reports detailed how Chinese leaders had become worried that President Trump was preparing an attack. Those concerns, which could have been misread, prompted Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to call his counterpart in Beijing to assure otherwise.

“The Taiwan issue has ceased to be a sort of narrow, boutique issue, and it’s become a central theater — if not the central drama — in U.S.-China strategic competition,” said Evan Medeiros, who served on President Obama’s National Security Council.

China’s ambitious leader, Xi Jinping, now presides over what is arguably the country’s most potent military in history. Some argue that Mr. Xi, who has set the stage to rule for a third term starting in 2022, could feel compelled to conquer Taiwan to crown his era in power.

Mr. Xi said Saturday in Beijing that Taiwan independence “was a grave lurking threat to national rejuvenation.” China wanted peaceful unification, he said, but added: “Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Few believe a war is imminent or foreordained, in part because the economic and diplomatic aftershocks would be staggering for China. Yet even if the recent flights into Taiwan’s self-declared air identification zone are intended merely as political pressure, not a prelude to war, China’s financial, political and military ascendancy has made preserving the island’s security a gravely complex endeavor.

Until recently, the United States believed it could hold Chinese territorial ambitions in check, but the military superiority it long held may not be enough. When the Pentagon organized a war game in October 2020, an American “blue team” struggled against new Chinese weaponry in a simulated battle over Taiwan.

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Without Box Office or Streaming Numbers, Hollywood Finds It Tough to Plan

“The Suicide Squad” should have been a big hit for Warner Bros. last month. It had superheroes, a marquee director (James Gunn), a huge production budget ($185 million) and received terrific reviews. But instead of delivering a box office ka-pow, it went ker-thud: Ticket sales total $156 million (split roughly 50-50 with theaters), compared with $747 million for the first “Suicide Squad” in 2016.

Of course, the latest one had to battle a pandemic. And it was also made available free on HBO Max in lock step with its theatrical debut. On that platform, it was a relative success — at least according to HBO Max, which heralded “The Suicide Squad” as the service’s second-most-viewed movie debut of the year.

But it offered no numbers.

“Paw Patrol: The Movie” (Paramount) was released simultaneously in theaters and on Paramount+ late last month. It took in $13 million over its first weekend, enough for second place behind “Free Guy,” a holdover. But the actual demand for “Paw Patrol” was shrouded. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest multiplex chain in the United States behind AMC Entertainment, refused to play the animated adventure because of its streaming availability. Paramount+ said on Aug. 25 that the movie “ranked as one of the service’s most-watched originals.”

But it offered no numbers.

In contrast, Disney-Marvel released “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” exclusively in theaters on Friday. Disney’s chief executive had called the old-fashioned release an “experiment.” Would the coronavirus keep people at home?

In surveys in late August of American moviegoers by the National Research Group, a film industry consultant, about 67 percent of respondents said they felt comfortable (“very or somewhat”) sitting in a theater. Disney has cited coronavirus concerns for making films like “Jungle Cruise,” “Cruella” and “Black Widow” available in homes on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters (even though Hollywood has suspected that the real reason — or at least an equally important one — has been helping Disney+).

The crystal-clear result: Audiences flocked to “Shang-Chi,” which was on pace to collect $83.5 million from 4,300 theaters in the United States and Canada from Friday through Monday, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. Overseas, the well-reviewed movie, notable for being Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero spectacle, generated an additional $56.2 million. “Shang-Chi” cost roughly $200 million to make.

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With More Freedom, Young Women in Albania Shun Tradition of ‘Sworn Virgins’

A centuries-old tradition in which women declared themselves men so they could enjoy male privilege is dying out as young women have more options available to them to live their own lives.


LEPUSHE, Albania — As a teenager locked in a patriarchal and tradition-bound mountain village in the far north of Albania, Gjystina Grishaj made a drastic decision: She would live the rest of her life as a man.

She did not want to be married off at a young age, nor did she like cooking, ironing clothes or “doing any of the things that women do,” so she joined a gender-bending Albanian fraternity of what are known as “burrneshat,” or “female-men.” She adopted a male nickname — Duni.

“I took a personal decision and told them: I am a man and don’t want to get married,” Duni recalled telling her family.

Few women today want to become what anthropologists call Albania’s “sworn virgins,” a tradition that goes back centuries. They take an oath of lifelong celibacy and enjoy male privileges, like the right to make family decisions, smoke, drink and go out alone.

Enver Hoxha.

Ms. Rakipi snorted with contempt when asked about people who undergo transition surgery. “It is not normal,” she said. “If God made you a woman, you are a woman.”

Duni, from Lepushe village, also has strong views on the subject, saying that altering the body goes “against God’s will,” and that people “should be put in jail” for doing so.

“I have not lived as a burrnesha because I want to be a man in any physical way. I have done this because I want to take on the role played by men and to get the respect of a man,” she said. “I am a man in my spirit, but having male genitals is not what makes you a man.”

Locals in Lepushe, including Manushaqe Shkoza, a server at a cafe in the village, said Duni’s decision to become a man initially came as a surprise, but it was accepted long ago. “Everyone sees it as normal,” Ms. Shkoza said.

Duni said she was sad that the tradition of sworn virgins would soon die out, but noted that her niece in Tirana had shown that there were now less drastic ways for a woman to live a full and respected life.

“Society is changing, but I think I made the right decision for my time,” Duni said. “I can’t resign from the role I have chosen. I took an oath to my family. This is a path you cannot go back on.”

Fatjona Mejdini contributed reporting.

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