After growing up in Dubai, which she calls home, Shihabi acknowledges the expectations and limitations often placed on women, especially. However, as a Dubai native living in the US, she emphasizes her gratitude for her background.
“In the Middle East, there is an expectation of women, but there is also a cult of women – maybe too much. Women are on a pedestal, and there is this mentality that we need to ‘be careful’ and ‘take care of them.’ But you also feel like people are always supporting you. Having loyalty, it’s about family and friendship,” she said. “In America, it’s an individualist culture. That’s very much like me, myself and me. I like being an Arab living in the US because I feel like I have taken things that I think are valuable and enriched my life and my relationships. [are] profound and intimate. I’m grateful that I’ve come from where I came and I’m here. That’s the best case scenario. “
On the horizon, Shihabi aims to expand her creative possibilities, with a focus on writing as well. She bursts with excitement and passion as she describes a particular project she’s working on. It combines her love of both acting and dancing. But while she is a writer, she finds it difficult to really claim to be one.
“It’s funny how we limit ourselves. My writing agent recently told me, ‘You need to start calling yourself a writer.’ And I had this block – thinking, ‘I can’t. I am an actor. I’m just experimenting with writing.‘ She said to me, ‘Own it.’ I think it was one of the most generous things anyone has ever given me because I said, ‘Oh, wait. I maybe that’s all. I can be a dancer, an actor and a writer. And I can be the director too! Why not? Why hold yourself back? Give yourself the freedom to explore and fail. You might be terrible at the start, but don’t stop yourself,” she says.
With this optimistic nature, she looks forward to her next project: Netflix’s Analgesic, starring Uzo Aduba and Matthew Broderick, revolves around the origins of the opioid crisis. The project is slated to premiere this year, and Shihabi continues to break the mold of Hollywood and redefine the role to fit her.
Storage 81 currently streaming on Netflix.
Photographer: Ryan Pfluger
Stylist: Oliver Vaughn
Hairstylist: Kat Thompson at Tomlinson Management Group
Make-up artist: Pircilla Pae at A-Frame Agency