THE MIDDLE EAST FILM FESTIVAL AND EGYPTIAN SCANDALOctober 16, 2009
Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story caused quite a scandal in Egypt when it was released this summer, and given that it stars Egypt’s most popular actress, Mona
Zaki, it’s no surprise that its first Arab screening outside of Egypt was packed. Egypt was apparently scandalized by the overt sexuality and consequent violence on screen. Of course, I wanted to see it too, as I have spent so much time with Scheherazade in the last few years. In Abu Dhabi last night, the director, Yusri Nasrallah, boasted that he was so proud of making a film that showed women as heroes over the men that try to control them, that he was making one of the few Arab films that didn’t relegate women to the roles of accommodating wife, mother, sister, or whore. The audience went wild with applause, and I was left baffled. The film revolves on Hebba (Mona Zaki), a talk show hostess whose husband asks her to lay off on the politics on her show so that she doesn’t hurt his chances with a top government editorial post (Mubarak’s government is so comfortable as an acknowledged corrupt tyrant that it doesn’t even bother to have censors deny it anymore) and so she begins to profile women who have been done mightily wrong by a man. The editing is a little sophomoric and the post-fight make up defies logic but the stories are interesting—but could the women really be any more naïve and desperate then they are in this film, whether it is the shop girl or the well-established doctor from a wealthy family? True, at some point, all women can admit to having been dumb and/or blind, but that doesn’t usually lead to insanity or murder, as it does in this film. This is a man’s movie, reeking of benevolence towards women and their helplessness. The director lamented the loss of powerful women on the Egyptian screen since its golden age, and it is still lamentable.