Not many people know that the Egyptian Cinema, was pioneered by women in production and acting before “Talaat Harb” was to initiate Studio Misr in 1937.
Female icons such as “Aziza Ameer” established her own film company in 1927, followed by “Assya Dagher”, “Mary Queen” and “Baheeja Hafez”; all who played a prominent role in the production of Egyptian films tackling female societal problems; so that their legacy was compounded for serving feminist purposes; producing films, as well as, acting films led to women by women; hence creating a cinema for women by women; because before “Azeeza Ameer” men used to play the role of women.
The first Feminist wave in the Egyptian Cinema
The famous act of “Hoda Shaarawy” who took off her veil in the public in 1923, was resonated in the film industry when “Aziza Ameer” unveiled her face as well, producing and acting the Egyptian film “Layla” in 1927, being known as the first Egyptian actress to act on-screen, and further on Egyptian theatres, because before her, men used to be “women under-disguise” playing female roles in the Egyptian theatrical production.
Indeed, the early 20th century, were led by also, liberal men who offered acting opportunities for women.
Such men were “Yousef bek Wahby” and “Najibal Rihani” who helped talented actresses such as the trilogy of “Aziza Ameer, Fatma Roshdy and Asia Dagher” to lead the female acting industry in Egypt, if not have their own studios; and each one of them was known to have her strong persona, however, they all were very ambitious and they all have a misfortune of dying poorly as well”, based on Bushirk research of The Grand Valley institute, so that the wealth such female icons invested within the Egyptian heritage, made them die penniless, for example, the last film of “Asia” was Egypt’s eternal film “AlNasser Salah El Din” in 1963, that left her bankrupt; yet it is an award- winner of all times.
The 1920s and the 1940s
The Golden Age of the Cinema Industrialization led by Women
The pioneer “Aziza Ameer” in both acting and producing; was an ambitious woman who initiated her own “Isis Company” named after the famous Pharonic Goddess “Isis”, further pushing the boundaries of the Cinema industry to be owned by other successful female figures such as, “Assya Dagher” who debuted in Ameer’s film “Layla”, portraying the protagonist sexual abuse, but “Assya” had her own production films from her small studio as well, such as, Ghadat al-Sahra, featuring her as the main character, discussing women’s marital and sexual objectification, as a way of riding the famous feminist wave of the 1920s.
Furthermore, “Assya Dagher” initiated her “Lotus film”, followed by the “Fanar Film” led by “Bahija Hafez”; all efforts were made before the industrialist male “Talaat Harb” initiated “Studio Misr” in 1937. Therefore, it is women who created the Egyptian production industry before any male attempts are to be made.
Later on, the director “Henry Barakat” engaged in the direction of feminist movies, produced by his wife “Mary Queen”. His films include “the prayer’s nightingale” featuring a predator, men, who seeks women as his prey, while society solely condemns the prey, based on the eternal novel of “Taha Hussein”, and “the sin” carrying a similar connotation of women sexual abuse, leading the woman to bare the consequence solely of the rape instead of blaming the victim, and horrified of the societal condemn.
In addition to his movie AlHaram (the Sin), that is based on a novel by the same title written by Yūsuf Idrīs. The Film portrays women’s oppression and revealed the miserable and doomed life of female migrant workers and the injustice they are exposed to.
Sidelining the feminine issues for the sake of the national Ideology in 1960s
As the 1952 revolution broke out, Nasser’s allies tended to dominate the Cinema Industry rendering it as a national tool, by portraying “Egypt” as the “leading actress in the films”, “sidelining any female societal issues to be discussed at the media”, at the expense of demonstrating the nation’s ideology, and as Rasha El Allam stated, “women were portrayed at an educational incompetent level compared to men”.
Also, in 1950s, a wave of films used to criticize independent women, while applauding for the valued-conformist “traditional women”, such as the famous “ana horra” which plots that freedom does not mean rebelling the female societal stifling norms, but to fight for one’s country’s freedom per se, as well as, “Shabbab Emra’a” who bore a strike association between independence and misbehavior.
Objectifying women and wearing Bikinis is the master scene
This era, objectified women as ” sex toys” to please men, with the main theme of having “women wearing bikinis”, so that the imposture of sex and semi-naked women became a prevalent scene in the films of that era, such as “Abby fawq Al Shaggara”,
Critiques labeled this time of the cinema as “Contractors Cinema” because the producers dominating the industry were lusting for liquid cash, especially that the National Film Industry was in 7 billion debt, only until “Take good care of Zozo” or “khaly Balak mn zozo”.
In the 1980s till 2000s
Women: Serving feminist purposes
The “new realism” cinema flourished in the 1980s, with the films directed by Atef El-Tayeb, Said Marzouk, and Mohamed Khan, who introduced a resourceful lump of films reflecting the socio-realistic feminist issues in Egypt, such as “Oreedo Hallan” or (I want a solution) directed by Said marzouk, featuring women physical abuse, as well as, other films such as ahlam Hend w Camilia (Dreams of Hend and Camilia) by Khan about two women being thwarted at every turn by poverty and patriarchy.
In particular, the late director Mohamed khan’s efforts were dedicated towards highlighting feminist issues; perhaps the jewel of his crown is, “In Heliopolis apartment” which states that a woman is beautiful in her own skin, redefining how the strength of a woman, should be; without the need to be a society-pleaser by meeting certain expectations of the “alpha women” who is multitasked.
Other films such as “the factory girl”; discussing how low- middle-class females are struggling many social challenges.
The current generation of Film Makers
Pushing the boundaries to tackle the untold stories
The Egyptian Cinema Industry shifted its attention towards tackling deeper epidemic feminist issues, such as the case of “678” movie, directed by “Mohamed Diab”, which is the first Egyptian film to explore the many dimensions of sexual harassment.
Diab built his Film on a real story of Noha Roshdy, a young Egyptian had decided to file a complaint against a truck driver who had sexually harassed her in the streets of Cairo.
Other successful attempts included “Asmaa”, tackling a societal taboo of having to co-exist with “HIV” in secrecy, for that it is misunderstood that catching HIV is an effect of pre-marital sex.
“Kalma Abu Zikry”, is one of the directors who supported feminist issues, as she did in her masterpiece “One-zero”, that discussed the controversial theme of divorce and remarriage of Coptic women, and lately her latest movie youm lel Setat (A day for women) was screened at the Cairo international Film festival, which is charming masterpiece about female solidarity in face of the patriarchal community.
Indeed, when a director as “Kamla Abu Zikry” is compared to “Enas El Deghedy”, one has to reflect on the recent trends of “Enas” which objectify women portraying them as “means of men sexual satisfaction”, instead of discussing serious feminist issues, such as her films “al warda el hamra” and “mozakerat morakeha”; however, it has to be stated that the early career of “El Deghedy” in 1980s, tackled serious feminist issues such as discussing the Egyptian epidemic of poor women selling their bodies to rich Arabs of the Gulf in, the name of marriage in, “Lahm rekhes”, as well as, “Afwan ayouha el qanoon” that unveils the discrimination between Men and Women who kills his partner in response to catching him or her committing the Crime of Adultery.