Zaineb Abdul-Nabi (’14) was doing homework when she got the call telling her that she would be at the Academy Awards.
Abdul-Nabi majored in Screen Arts and Cultures, and she had entered a contest to be part of the 2014 Team Oscar. Contestants entered videos and essays explaining what they were going to contribute to the future of movies. Abdul-Nabi’s video mixes black-and-white with color footage, celluloid with video, static photos with motion shots. In one scene, subway commuters stand wreathed in darkness like civilians huddled inside a bomb shelter during WWII. In another, the lights in a corner grocery glow with a strange green tinge as if the whole store were underwater. Abdul-Nabi packs a feature film’s worth of grit and wonder into just 53 seconds. It’s easy to see why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose her for Team Oscar.
Winners were invited to hand out Oscar statues on the live broadcast of the awards program last year. Abdul-Nabi and the five other Team Oscar winners flew out to Hollywood a week before the show, attending rehearsals and touring studios. Abdul-Nabi handed out four awards on Oscar night, including Best Director to Alphonso Cuarón for the film Gravity. As a member of Team Oscar, Abdul-Nabi reminded herself to “absorb the whole experience.”
“I didn’t go out thinking I was going to network,” Abdul-Nabi remembers. “The Academy was so far removed from what I was doing. I was still a student. I just wanted to remember everything.”
At the time, Abdul-Nabi wasn’t sure what she was going to do after graduation. But the Team Oscar experience gave her the confidence to stick by her voice, trusting that she would find meaningful projects to be a part of.
“People do recognize talent,” Abdul-Nabi says. “That’s one of the major things that came out of this competition. Somebody recognized that six of us were talented. And they were investing in that.”
Since graduating, Abdul-Nabi has returned to her native New York, where she works in a boutique commercial editing house. She worked her way up from being an intern to an apprentice, spending long hours going through tape, organizing footage, and practicing with new editing software.
Abdul-Nabi comes home late at night and works on the weekends, but she still loves her job, which both pays her and allows her to practice her craft. And she still thinks about the Team Oscar experience “every day.”
“The other five winners and I all keep in touch,” Abdul-Nabi says. “When they released the names of the new Team Oscar members in January, we all texted each other. We were pretty nostalgic about it.
“And it was such a great experience,” Abdul-Nabi continues. “It shined a light on a part of the industry that I know I want to be a part of. I want to make films, make something that speaks to me. I love my job, but I also see it as a stepping stone to creating my own work in the future.”