On a brilliantly sunny day in Los Angeles—the kind that makes a New Yorker question their East Coast existence—Mena Massoud, the star of Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, out May 24, told me that his first “room” in Hollywood had been a mattress in a friend’s closet. It’s the perfect tidbit for a star-on-the rise story, exemplifying the sacrifice and hard work that led to his eventual success.
“This was the biggest film I had ever worked on and probably the biggest opportunity of my life so far.”
As the child of immigrants, the underdog narrative is familiar to Massoud, but his is no story of dumb luck. He’s working overtime to control his own narrative, to go after roles that aren’t traditionally given to men from the Middle East, and to ensure that he has an identity that exists off-screen.
“All I knew was that this was the biggest film I had ever worked on and probably the biggest opportunity of my life so far, so I was just focused on doing a good job,” says Massoud of the experience, actively pushing back against the idea of “the industry doing me a favor.”
The concept of owning your own story appears again and again in this issue. For the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana, that’s meant building a music festival that focuses on growing their native talent, instead of bringing in whatever headliner is popular in the West. Up-and-coming singer Cina Soul gives us her guide to the city, from her favorite places to perform to the best spot for yam and pork chops.
Identity becomes something to protect more fiercely in an ever-shifting environment.
In Ireland, chefs are using the abundant array of local produce and livestock to redefine the country’s food culture, shedding its history of famine perhaps once and for all—it’s now the most food-secure nation in the world. During our trip there, we heard 42 new restaurants are opening in the city, and toured a handful of recent additions, sampling charcuterie, mushrooms, and, most importantly, butter.
And in Guadalajara, artists are creating work that digs much deeper than the tequila and mariachi that characterize the state of Jalisco. Even—and perhaps especially—as the world becomes more accessible and open, countries are turning inward, looking to lift up their own heritage, resources, and people. It would seem that identity becomes something to protect more fiercely in an ever-shifting environment.
Call it a whole new world.
For issue 08 of Here Magazine, we explored the art scene in Guadalajara, dining in Dublin, and more. We'll be publishing all of our stories online over the next several weeks, so follow along here or get a copy of your own.