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Open Access Golden age divas on the silver screen: Challenging or conforming to dominant gender norms?

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Egyptian cinema has been hugely influential throughout the Arab world, and has produced several divas. Fatin Hamama (d. 2015) and Soad Hosny (d. 2001) were very popular among their contemporaries and still continue to enchant audiences. Yet, there has been little systematic study of the cinema roles such enthralling divas were cast in. In this article, we discuss the genre melodrama, and the roles played by these two highly successful Egyptian actresses and stars over decades. We ask: to what degree do Fatin Hamama and Soad Hosny’s iconic screen characters conform to or challenge dominant gender norms? We broaden our inquiry so as to examine what characterizes the gender dynamics in the films that Fatin Hamama and Soad Hosny star in, thereby exploring what kind of male characters they are pitted against and how the gendered power dynamics play out in the storyline. The films we analyse, illustrate how numerous themes and narratives on class, patriarchy, education, modernity and nationalism overlap and play into the definition of power and relations across both class and gender. Against the backdrop of a highly politicised cinema, we discuss the various ‘state narratives’ or counter-narratives that appear to be informing the films, and demonstrate how productions from the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s betray wider political sentiments of their time. We argue that Fatin Hamama and Soad Hosny’s screen choices and famous stage personae developed in line with the capacity of the national modernist project to produce the desired results on the ground.

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Keywords: Egyptian cinema; gender ideals; masculinity; melodrama; national feminine identity; patriarchy; realism; state nationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Oslo 2: Independent researcher

Publication date: 2016-03-01

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  • The Journal of African Cinemas will explore the interactions of visual and verbal narratives in African film. It recognizes the shifting paradigms that have defined and continue to define African cinemas. Identity and perception are interrogated in relation to their positions within diverse African film languages. The editors are seeking papers that expound on the identity or identities of Africa and its peoples represented in film.
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