Monday, March 31

Women....The Forgotten Media Moguls

As We have mentioned before, a lot of what people think is influenced by the media... what they see or hear influences their peception of the world around them, and alters their mentality and how they handle various situations. Media is obviously a very powerful tool, and to control the media is to control how people around you will think and act. If women ever regain their status in society, I am almost certain that the media will play a major role. I often wonder, when will the time come when women will be able to freely influence the media? when will their voices be heard?

The first cinema production in Egypt was a film shot in Alexandria. This was the beginning of the cinema industry, in 1907 and was a revolution of its own.The first Egyptian to act in a movie was Mohamed Karim, who only had minor roles in movies, which were mainly directed by foreigners. The first Egyptian actors to act in full length movies were the Fawzi el Gazayerli Troup.

This troup was famous for the comedic act of " elme3alem ba7ba7, and his wife om a7mad". Played by Fawzi and his daughter, indicating that since the beginning of the Egytian movie industry, it is clear that both women and men were equally represented, and participated freely. Actors and actresses do not have a major role in influencing the public, meaning they do not write the stories, and they do not produce or direct the movies, so in a sense, they are only the "image" but not the idea.

An astounding fact that I have come to learn in that the first feature film in Egypt was in fact directed by a woman.... Aziza Amir produced Egypt's first feature film, "Laila," in 1927. Numerous women directed and produced films in the 1940s through the mid-'60s, during Egypt's golden age of cinema, which ended when then President Abdel Nasser took state control of the cinema industry. Women have yet to regain their power in the industry. Aziza Amir was Born in Domiat in 1901.... so she was only 26 years old when she took that major milestone.

It is quite clear that most of the Egyptian movie pioneers were women. Examples Aziza Amir , Fatma Rushdi, and Assia.Although not all of them had enough personal funds, there were people in the community who respected and admired them, and were ready to fund their ventures into the world of movie making. Another important note is that these people did not care about each others religion, or political points of view, and they all worked together to introduce the movie industry into a country that had never seen it before, only one year after the first movie was ever made in the world. An example of this is Fatma Rushdie, whose work was funded by a Jewish man called Elie Derie.

Women were pioneers at a time when they needed to struggle and persevere to continue the project. When Aziza Amir made her film Laila in 1927, Talaat Harb told her the famous statement: “You have done what no man dared to do”, because he had been unwilling to risk a long movie, and was content with short movies. All of the hard work eventully paid off, so we can safely say that the foundation of the biggest movie industry in the Middle East was placed by women, and the golden age of that industry was accomplished by both men and women working side by side.

This brings me to the main point of this post.... Whatever happened to the Egyptian movie industry? Where have all the women gone and why are actresses getting fewer and fewer roles, why are women rarely, if ever, the main stars in movies? Why have they been sidelined? The main complaint by Egyptian actresses, that I read and see, is that writers don't write roles for women, and producers do not produce movies for women... It is quite obvious that the wahabization of Egypt has affected our movie industry, and is threatening to destroy over 100 years of work. Add to all of that the increasing number of Egyptian actresses who are obviously in great distress, and are sufferring mentally and intelectually from the wahabist push in the ultra extreme conservative oppressive direction, who suddenly quit work, wear hegab, announce o the world that they are quitting the "sin" of acting and wish God will forgive them.... some have even wore a hegab, and then took it off, then put it back on... or even a niqab! It is quite clear that the actresses of today are hesitant, unrealistic, and confused... Which doesn't help with the current image of women in the media, and which makes women less likely to be taken seriously by their male colleagues.

When it comes to directors on the other hand, it is a totally different story. There are only a few female movie directors, but these women had to fight against great odds to get into the field of directing which has been predominantly run by males since Nasser took over the film industry (as opposed to to how easy it was for men to get into the industry when it was run mainly by women... makes you wonder why men would be so insecure as to opose a woman doing the same job?!) A few examples are Hala Khalil, Sandra Nashat, and of course Egypt's most established and controversial female movie director Inas El Degheidy. All 3 women have been quoted at one point of time saying that they had to stand up to family and to the community around them in order to enter the field of movie directing.. as well as the blatant discrimination in the work field against them simply for being women. When speaking about Inas Eldegheidy in particular, it is clear to see that she has drawn the most criticism because of th nature of her movies. Most of her movies have a main theme.. that is the idea of feminism, and the injustices suffered by Egyptian women in particular due to unfair laws (for example "3afwan ayoha alqanoon", and many others). In our current society, many if not most (but definatly not all) men find this kind of woman intimidating. They fear a woman who is loud enough to be heard and influential enough will some how shake the foundation o the wahabi infiltration into the Egyptian household, thus shaking their egos and sense of self worth... so by the extreme criticism of her work, the feel that in part they are not just fighting the movie's idea, but also fighting any woman who dares complain of the chauvanistic culture that exists.

On a lighter note, I have come to learnthat An American Play I had mentioned before "The Vagina Monologues", actually has an Egyptian version!! It is called "KALAM FI SERRI" Directed by Riham Abdlrazik, who also acts in the play. It played last November in The Cairo Opera House as a part of the second female play directors festival in Cairo. The show aso travelled outside of Egypt, and played in Tunisia in December of 2007.

Even though the play showed in Egypt,it was not without repercussions....Of course, all the opressive anti-woman media moguls objected and theMuslim brotherhood interfered. Mohsen Radi, the MB representative in the Democratic party decided to sue and ban the show, since according to his ideas, the words women an sex cannot be placed together in one sentence as it is "insulting" to the communiy. He claimed that they have crossed all the lines, and have discussed things that should not be mentioned, and that this will result in immoral sexual practices in the community!!! The good thing though is that for once people were not intimidated by the MB's and the ministry of culure ( wezaret althaqafa) Criticized the attack of the MB's on the show stating that the MB's were not truthful , and lacked objectivity in their counterproductive argument, and that they are trying to "ye7agebo" the movie industry :)

The one conclusion I have is that we need freedom of speach, and the MB are doing their best to prevent women expressing themselves in the ,media.... starting by suing actresses who decide to take off the hegab, to plays they dont approve of, to accusing women of attacking religion in movies and plays, thus inflaming society against them, to deciding that certain shows should not discuss problems in society that pretain to certain women, as thay have done to Hala Sar7an when she discussed prostitution in Egypt, and as they are doing with Kalam fi Serri.


Overall , the way I see things is that women have revolutionized a country... and not just one country, but an entire region of the world. Since Egyptian media was the only media for a very long time, and it was only over the past 10 years that other Arabic speaking countries have begun to have a media that is beginning to be somewhat influential. I have yet to see a movie in Arabic that gets as much attention, or publicity, or influence as any Egyptian movie. If women at that time were opressed, this revolution would not have happened. The opression of women is the opression of society. It is the loss of great minds and great ideas. It is the loss of advancement in different fields, and the loss of potential benefits to our country. Wahabists know this , so their main attack is always an attack on women and their freedom and their rights. They do this to weaken us, so they can be the dominant power in the region. Their power and influence comes from oil, which we lack.. However, we have something far better than oil. We have manpower, a bigger population that is more educated than any of the wahabi countries. By sidelining half of this population, they are cutting Egypt's main source of strength and progress in half. They are sending us back in time. We all need to stand up for women and stop the blatant attacks on all their efforts and hard work. When we stand up for women we are standing up for society. When we stand up for society we are standing up for a better future and a better Egypt. Lets all unite and fight for a better Egypt. We need our voices to be heard. We want women to be given their rightful place in the media. The one they have worked so hard to get, yet was stolen right before their very eyes in the name of extremism and mysogyny.

12 comments:

raaasa said...

Nice post, EFC. Good work!
Several directions come to mind.

First, in terms of creativity and innovation, I think the free interaction between different cultures, before Nasser tossed all the foreigners out, contributed to the flow of ideas within the culture in general, in this case in film.

Of course, I am saying that diversity among people, whether it is diversity of culture, religion, politics, experience, and/ or gender when there is possibility for free interaction tends to enrich and broaden everyone's perspectives.

Over the past decade or two, this limited black and white wahabi thinking--all women are like this, all men are like this, all Muslims are like this, all Christians are like this, all Jews are like this, all Easterners are like this, all Westerners are like this, and it doesn't stop there--limits everyone's possibilities.
We really need to attack ideas like this by immediately challenging this when we hear it coming out of someone's mouth. Maybe if we do it on a small scale, ie. one-to-one, then when we hear politicians or sheikhs come out with stuff like this, people will not so easily be fooled.

EFC, yes, I agree with you that representation is huge--how women are represented.

I have been shocked over the years about the limited female visibility: the lessening of any mention or depiction of women in the media, newspapers and so on.

To an onlooker, it is as if Egypt is only composed of men.

raaasa said...

A good long read in this study about the portrayal of women in Egyptian mass media, billboards and such, The Demonization of Women in Egypt by Susan M. Belcher El-Nahhas

http://www.skk.uit.no/WW99/papers/El-Nahhas_Susan_M._Belcher.pdf

Egyptian Feminist Chic said...

Raaasa,

I agree with you about the black vs.white classification of people today. and yes you are right, the lack of diversty in our current culture hs huge negative impact, and people are becoming less and les tolerant by the minute.,

I have just finisheds reading the article yu provided.... thank you so much for the link, it is realy a must read!!

I am guessing this article was written some time in the early nineties, since some of the facts mentioned hae changed.... The author commented about one of the interviewees by calling her the " muhagaba" so I am guessing this ws at a tim before the whle hegab thing took over egypt.THere i alsotalk about how women do not smoke sheesha.... and as I recall in the second half of the nineties, almost every one in sight started smoking sheesha... for some reason it stopped being a taboo....

Now judging from the time period, i expected people to be more open minded and more tolerant... but sadly things were not so... I guess with the mentality demonstraded by the interviwees, it is easy to understand the progression of Egypt into the kind of opressive almost fundementalist society it is today.


The amount of mysogynist comments is astounding!! IT shows that the popular belief was that a "good " woman was just one who is obedient subservient, quiet submissive, content and grateful to men... anger, or agression were not expected and were frowned upon.

Most of the comments were saying that the way the media portrayed women was offensive and played only to the sexually provocative attitudes and behaviors... rather than treating the woman as a whole person....
These comments were actually quite ironic, since they were limting women into a one dementional character.... and did not tolerate variety or individuality.... it is like there is a mold, and in order to be a respectable woman in society, you have to fit into that mold.
The commentors did not look at a woman as a whole... but only looked at a submissive subserviant idea of a woman... and then stopped.

They were offended when a woman wore pants... when a woman talked to men... when a woman put on make up... when a woman held a gun... when a woman danced... when a woman sang... when a woman apeared angry...when women apeared beautiful, when products specific for women were advertised... when stockings were advertised on legs....etc. They even want to regulate how a woman walks and talks and moves her hands... because according to them this can differentiate between a good woman and an "evil " woman!!! Funny how we dont have similar standards fr men!!!! no restrictions... no taboos.... but women have to be under lock and key, and should be controlled 24/7 in order to avoid being branded as prostitutes!!! in short the existance of wome offended them!!!

Any woman who did any of the previous things was a whore... a prostitute... who does not deserve respect..... even the picture of socks on a leg... not attached to a body indcated that it probbly belongs to a whore!!!! holy moly!!! talk about one dimentional attitudes!

to make a long story short ... a woman is either a whore or a saint... nothing in between....

very judgmental, very biased, very mysogynist attitudes...

It is no wonder that nowadays many women hide behind the hegab... they wear it to get society off their back... then go do anyting they please... to hell with morals!

This article explains the current atitudes of egyptians to the media, as well as why their are fewer egyptian actresses every day...

Their idea of a good egyptian movie, is a movie where all the women are saints... women sitting at home caring for the kids nd serving the husband, and being content... nothing more, any thing more would be derogatory!
Seriously... these comments show why not all peope can be movie producers and directors!!!! This whole concept just sidelines women as a whole... both in the movie industry, as well as in society... I would realy like someone to explain to mewhy the found the image of an actress holding a gun to be "immoral" did they realy think that since she held a gun in a movie she would go ona shooting rampage or something?? seriously... what is it about it that they hate??? this is a movie for god's sake!! movies have guns... i know many people are against violence in movies... but these people are against violent women... or anything that would hit at the idea of a violent woman... a violent man is totally okay!! The other issue of branding any woman working in the media a whore is unaaceptable!!!it is the perfect way to not have any female influence on the community via the media... I am sure that every profession and every society has both the good and the bad.... generalizing such a derogatory idea is nothing short of misogyny.


I beieve this article shows only one thing... society is demonizing women for being human.... the media was just doing what they do best... trying to sell their product, nothing more!!

People need to learn to treat women as equals.... and let them live... living equally should not be a taboo based on your eproductive organs!

I will still maintain... our media has been hijacked by people with "fundie" tendancies... they need to be stopped... and peoples ideas need to change... sigh.

raaasa said...

Dear EFC,

I'd glad you had the opportunity to read the article and found it to be stimulating. Thanks for your thoughts on it.

It's been a while since I read it, so I am working from memory. I am not sure just how much jumping around between different classes of people she does of the people whose opinions she collects. This would make somewhat of a difference you'd think although I realize that, sadly, the fundie mentality has infiltrated all levels of society.

(Fanta--are you out there?-- at one point, maybe it was the mozza essay?-- somewhere here you mentioned that you were going to do a write-up analysis of each class level/ status of Egyptian society. quite a project! but maybe interesting and useful in the context of female ideal vs reality. just a thought.)

I was also disgusted at the one dimensional way women are expected to be, good vs bad. ie. this is right and this is wrong, end of discussion. Very very sad.

While I am obviously bothered by this given my feminist loyalties, but I am also greatly disturbed that this inflexibility of the mind and ideas and thoughts does not augur well for Egyptian society as a whole.

On a positive note though, the other day I came across news of an Egyptian having made three thought provoking mini-videos--something along the lines of what we had discussed doing some time ago, hello!--that he was transmitting virally through cellphones. The point was challenging the braindead mentalities out there. The topics were the status of women and pre-marital sex and what. Sorry, my memory fails me. I'll post it if I come across it again.

I am happy someone has run with the idea and is trying to make a difference by at least starting the discussion.

And another thing, have we lost everyone to Facebook?

(hope everyone is safe with all what has been going on)

Fantasia said...

dear EFC,

been wondering about the same thing myself. look at the female roles in the movies nowadays.. you can easily remove the female roles in those movies and they won't be affected in any way.

female stars appear as decoration.. the hero has to be in love with a beautiful girl, so they get a star to help with the box office to play the role.. but all her scenes are simply an excess to the movie.. and sometimes it seems from the dialogue that her part did not appear in the original script

women are vanishing from the egyptian scene, dear. they are being marginalized in real life, so how about movies and fiction??

they are making in big in music videos though! the Lebanese divas are invading the music world so forcefully.. and egyptian girls are trying to catch up.. but it all shows the pathetic condition of women in this part of the world

what can i say? women are still a major source of disappointment. their representation is not a lot worse than what they have truly turned to become

Fantasia said...

dear raaasa,

i'm right here. haven't gone anywhere. but maybe i allowed myself to drift away a little, branching horizontally and getting hooked up on many projects. the egyptian society is in a total mess.. there is a lot of work to be done.. and i guess i have to face the fact that i can't do all this work.

my overwhelming sense of responsibility might have been due to taking note that there are not enough people willing to do what should be done. right now, all that is occupying my mind is figuring out a way of gathering all the scattered voices that are feeble due to their functioning as separate islands

i haven't forgotten our early project. was even thinking about doing it as cartoon. and i recently knew someone who could help with the drawing part.. still we need someone to turn these into a video clip

i will be resuming my analytical work soon. might go with the shorter articles, that are more of a commentary, for a while.. but i am planning for something big. i just wanna make sure not to do it horizontally again. i need lots of help, coz the way things are going says that we are rolling down too fast.

i don't know why i feel like i gotta intervene. i don't know why i act like it has got to be me. all i know is that i am sucked in.

any advice?

raaasa said...

Dear Fanta and EFC,

You're right, Fanta, I have often wondered how is it that women in recent films don't actually DO anything. And now that you mention it, aha!, yes, female roles are sort of inserted afterwards, conveniently sprinkled around like badounis on top of a full plate.

ok, for the time being, yes, women's roles in film and theatre are hopeless, but I disagree that fiction is a lost cause as well. I think there is hope that women are fully developed characters in fiction. Despite the writer's political inclinations, he/ she knows that his/ her job is to make each character a complete individual. I mean, if you just plunk a silicone-inflated bimbo or two or constantly reproducing housewife with no personality, it would reflect poorly on the author.
Yes, I think writers are doing the best they can under the circumstances. Check out all the great fiction that is being published and translated:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,,2272933,00.html

I've been closely following what's been going on and yes, it is a mess. It is good to see people on every level getting involved in the face of great risk. Getting the word out is now more critical than ever. (I do think, however, that some long range vision and organization is needed to have something in place should the moment ever come.) Very brave indeed.

Yes, there needs to be a common thread and cohesiveness amongst all these splinters. As it stands, for each small victory, one group struggles to take the credit and profit from the situation. Dangerous for all involved.

How did we get from silicone to here, hmmm?

Good to hear you are still considering other forms of getting the word out.

As for advice, well, focus on your priorities. Delegate tasks when possible. Nourish yourself, including your spirit. Identify your needs. Know that it is ok to say no.

Is that the kind of advice you were looking for?

I find this woman to be an awesome inspiration and I think you just might as well. I have recently been hearing quite a bit about her. There are many articles of interest on her site:

http://www.margaretwheatley.com/

Individuals can accomplish miracles.

egy anatomist said...

EFC Hanem

I am sorry for my inability to regularly comment on ur amazing posts and other posts in this lovely blog due to lack of time.

Just wanted to say that I am following and reading every word being written here.

Kind regards,

Anatomist

raaasa said...

A review of a recent UK film festival focusing on female film-makers in the Middle East:

http://www.newstatesman.com/200802140029

Much of interest in the article, but to me, at least, it seems that most, if not all, of the films included focus on female oppression. Yes, absolutely it exists and we need to identify and fight against it.

However, I wonder if all female creativity in the Middle East needs to focus on violence against women and oppression? (and by saying this, I am certainly not denying or diminishing it) I mean, is that where we are now? Aren't women doing or thinking about anything else? Or does that topic smother all others?

Or does the West only select films that feature female oppression in the Middle East to show in its festivals by female directors?

Egyptian Feminist Chic said...

Dear Fanta,
Sorry for taking so long to reply... things here have been crazy, and I havent been online in days.... when I am supreme ruler of the world I will pass a new law dictating that women shall have more hours in the day ;) (joking)


I only wanted to say that I have hope.... the internet is making voices heard that would never have come out before... and ultimatly, our opinions will have value.... things will change. I am optimistic. Maybe more Egyptian actresses and writers will see the demand for women's roles in movies, and something will change... we'll see.

Egyptian Feminist Chic said...

Egy Anatomist,
Thank you for your kind words... I was actually wondering where you have been ( as well as other regular commentors) glad to see that you are still around .I would still love it if you leave comments whenever you get a chance. Looking forward to hearing more from you on future posts :)

gehan said...

bless you

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde