Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Three Women Pioneers of Egyptian Cinema
Ouissal Mejri

Last modified: 2010-05-12


During the early years of Egyptian cinema, women faced major hindrance towards religion and traditions. Despite the profusion of conservative ideas which prohibited women from working both on backstage and on stage, a few pioneers decided to defy their society and culture and thus started building their own film careers. Three of them were very successful:

Aziza Amir (1901-1952) Actress, producer. She was the first Egyptian woman to cross the threshold of the world of cinema production with her film Leila ("Leila", 1927)

Bahija Hafez (1908 - 1983) She was a producer, screenwriter, actress, costume designer, editor and composer of music for silent films. In 1932 she founded the film studio Fanar Film Company through which she produced her next films. In my intervention I will analyze El Dahâyâ ("Victims", 1932), which is considered her masterpiece.

Fatma Rushdi (1908-1996) Singer, actress, producer, writer. She began her career in 1923 and became the first actress, and receives the nickname of "Sarah Bernhardt of the East". In 1930 she established a film production company Sherket Aflam el Negma Misreyah (Society Egyptian film star). We will talk about her work using Fajiaa faouka the Haram ("Murder of the Pyramid", 1928) as an example.

Despite the lack of research materials on the precious work that these women did, I will attempt a brief reconstruction of their lives and carriers using their most relevant works as examples. In doing that, I will also highlight the socio-economic, cultural and political conditions of Egyptian society during those years. Through their works, I will, therefore, analyze and compare the situation of women in the 20’s within the Egyptian society and its cinematic representation. My starting point in this analysis will be a Fatwa[1] issued by the relevant religious institute of Al Azhar in the first decade of the twentieth century. This rule states that: "If a woman works in art, she will be denied the Islamic religion and even the paradise”.

Aziza Amir, Bahija Hafez and Fatma Rushdi defied this rule and started working within the cinema industry in Egypt,  accomplishing a cinema-driven feminine revolution.

[1]                  A fatwa is an Islamic religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law

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