Originally posted July 2010
One day, I was reading a news story about a young Egyptian woman. She was waging a battle in court against her boyfriend, who had denied the paternity of their infant daughter. I was incensed by the unfairness of Egypt’s laws, which this man was exploiting. That is why I made Family Matters, a documentary about cases like this one and Egypt’s outdated family laws. Then followed a film about female circumcision. Then another called Women’s Chitchat, which gained wide recognition in and outside Egypt. The latter film is a portrait of four generations of Egyptian women from the same family in Cairo. The film first traces the life of the grandmother, who enjoyed an emancipated life following the women’s movement to the 1920s and the 1930s. The film then traces the lives of the younger female members of the family, whose lives are marked by the regression and increasing intimidation of women.
I have encountered this regression in my daily work as a female filmmaker. The team of male colleagues with whom I work — from the cameraman to the office boy — seek to challenge my authority as a film director, often by asking personal, inappropriate questions, such as “are you married?”, “does your husband approve your working so late in the night?”, “with whom do you leave your kids?”, “why are you not wearing a veil?” These questions reflect males’ reluctance to accept women as decision makers. In fact, establishing my authority in filming locations has been a constant challenge. A cameraman, for instance, may challenge my request to shoot from a certain camera angle, though he would not do so in the same manner were I a male director.
This personal challenge has also pushed me closer to the marginalized, the minorities, and the weaker groups in society, and filled me with a great desire to support them. I also wish to change the stereotypical image of women in Arab cinema, and to produce films that instead present a more nuanced image. Injustice against women has prompted me to produce films about women’s issues. However, I have learned that shouting on a film location or at male film critics does not yield results. Instead, I have learned the art of negotiation and maneuvering to get my male colleagues to accept me as a female filmmaker, and to accept my ideas as being creative and professional.
Having toured international festivals, I have come to realize that I can share my visions and dreams with filmmakers from other countries and cultures. Communicating my work to others abroad and learning how my work can be appreciated or critiqued according to others’ criteria is a great opportunity for me. I even sought funds from Europe to produce several films when it was hard to get financial support for my films inside Egypt. This has made me realize that if the opportunities to gain recognition in my own country decrease, there are people in other nations who can appreciate my work, despite the differences in ethnicity, religion, and language. This realization has strengthened my conviction that we, as human beings the world over, can stand united against injustice and intolerance in all its forms.