Less than 24 hours before a wave of terror attacks left Paris reeling in horror, Lebanon’s own capital city Beirut — often dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East” — was also struck by suicide bombers, who killed at least 43 civilians last Thursday. Just as with Paris, the perpetrators were also from ISIS, the victims innocent people going about their day.
While Paris has been understandably grief-stricken in the wake of the single worst atrocity on French soil since the end of the World War II, with theaters shut over the weekend and three days of national mourning, the citizens of Beirut have been doing their best to get on with life as usual. Box office in Lebanon was down this weekend by only 24%, a testament as much to no major new release opening (Spectre is now in its second week and still going gangbusters with 75,000 admissions already) as to any security concerns.
Lebanese TV stations, so frequently filled with perfectly coiffured, sometimes provocatively dressed presenters, were dominated instead by rolling news coverage of the suicide bombings in the Dahiyeh district of Beirut. That didn’t last too long, though, with channels returning to regular programming of the singing and dancing variety within 48 hours.
And while the Paris attacks have drawn the sympathy of the world to the City of Light, the Beirut attacks have gone largely unnoticed outside the country. Salma Hayek, who is of Lebanese origin, co-produced the Khalil Gibran adaptation The Prophet, and lives partly in Paris, did make a point of connecting the two cities over the weekend.
Actress Ruby Rose found herself on the receiving end of some mindless trolling when she not only reminded people of Beirut, but also of Syria. The John Wick 2 star stood her ground though and earned some respect from an unlikely source, right-wing British newspaper the Daily Mail.
In a city that witnessed a brutal civil war between 1975-1990 that saw it divided into East and West, and found itself under bombardment for over a month in July 2006 by the Israeli army during a war with Hezbollah, Beirut has experienced its share of trauma and developed coping mechanisms to deal with terrifying violence. As the most liberal city in the Arab world, and most religiously diverse with Christians and Muslims and almost every permutation thereof, little shocks the Lebanese anymore. “Everything continued as normal,” says Lebanese distributor Bassam Eid. “Apart from the actual neighborhoods that were bombed, people kept trying to live their life. Everyone around the world stopped for Paris, but nobody cared about Lebanon.”
Instead, Lebanese audiences are now bracing for themselves for the biggest clash of the season when rival Lebanese features go head to head on December 17. Saad Hendawi’s Paparazzi, starring local heartthrob Ramy Ayach, goes up against Philippe Asmar’s The Second Lady in an increasingly fierce rivalry that could spell box office trouble for another picture opening that day: a small movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“It’s going to be a big battle,” says a local distributor. “No one cares about outer space and Star Wars. It’s the Lebanese films that really matter here.”