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How Egyptian Actor Menna Shalaby is Supporting Female Arab Filmmakers

Menna Shalaby, el Gouna film festival

Menna Shalaby at the El Gouna film festival. Photographed by Amina Zaher for Vogue Arabia November 2020

After gracing the red carpet at the El Gouna film festival with countless stunning looks, Menna Shalaby has vowed to support female Arab filmmakers. During the Women’s Empowerment Through Film panel discussion at the film festival, the Egyptian actor announced that she is launching an initiative that aims to bring projects by female Arab talents to life, by supporting scripts written for both short and feature-length films and television series.

The initiative derives from Shalaby‘s experiences working with fellow females in the film and television industry. As part of the panel, the actor expressed her gratitude when working with female scriptwriters and directors, highlighting her collaborations with Egyptian directors Kamla Abou Zekry and Mariam Abou Ouf and her award-winning role in Hala Khalil’s Nawara, in 2015. Yet, the 38-year-old actor also expressed concern over the many challenges that women face in the industry, including the lack of opportunities present for female professionals in film and television.

“The problem is, women can’t make decisions in our industry, which is really important. We have huge talent, but women are not at the decision-making level so that we are able to support each other,” Shalaby stated to the panel audience. The star also touched on her opinion about the level of substantial roles written for women. “I always feel that there aren’t enough. I was lucky to do a few, but I need to do more. We need to do more, a lot more,” she said.

Menna Shalaby

Menna Shalaby speaking at the “Women’s Empowerment Through Film” Panel at El Gouna film festival. Photo: Instagram/@mennashalaby

The Women’s Empowerment Through Film panel at the El Gouna film festival brought together renowned talents who sat alongside Shalaby and discussed the importance of representation of women in the film industry, especially in departments such as directing, sound, editing, and cinematography. French-Egyptian documentary producer and director Jihan El-Tahri, French-Algerian journalist and filmmaker Dorothee-Myriam Kellou, Palestinian writer-director Najwa Najjar, and Indian actress Richa Chadha all joined Shalaby for the event.

“What would be considered a win is if we can make a film that is true to our reality and, at the same time, visually pleasing; a film that people would go to the theatre to see,” Shalaby said to the panel. “We have strong actresses who believe in the roles they play, we’ve broken many taboos on screen and we’ve taken on courageous roles. The question is, how can we inject new ideas into the industry and work together?” she added.

Shalaby has promised that the initiative will not only support female Arab filmmakers but also be a learning experience for herself. “It’s an honour and a huge responsibility … At the end of the day, I will also benefit from discovering a good project and taking part in it,” Shalaby wrote on her Facebook page, following the announcement. “I expect a high response rate, so we ask that you take into account any delay in responding,” she added to the post.

While full details of the initiative are yet to be announced, female filmmakers and writers are encouraged to send their scripts to Shalaby; with candidates reminded that projects should be registered in their creator’s name first, in order to protect intellectual property rights.

Writers can email their scripts to

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