The 100 Most Influential People of 2020
David Fisher—Shutterstock
By Riz Ahmed
September 22, 2020 9:34 PM EDT

Our understanding of war is historically mediated through soldiers and war reporters; it’s dominated by battle scenes and colored in khaki. It is often informed by the stories of men, told by men.

With her heart-stopping footage from the last hospital in east Aleppo, which dominated news platforms, and her multi-award-winning film For Sama, Waad al-Kateab told us the story of the Syrian war through the eyes of a new mother. She told a story whose heroes are ordinary people risking everything to live free from tyranny: doctors working under fire to save others, teachers educating children in underground classrooms as bombs rain down outside. A story of extreme brutality but also of endless hope.

In a year when film awards were, once again, criticized for their lack of diversity, it was incredible to see Waad, a Muslim refugee woman, walk the red carpet at the Oscars alongside her young daughter, wearing a gown embroidered with a poem in Arabic that read, “We dared to dream and we will not regret dignity.”

I am in awe of her refusal to give up that dream.

Ahmed is an Emmy Award–winning actor

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