Screenwriting, directing, producing, editing, and acting, — in every aspect of the global film industry, women are using their position in the spotlight to illuminate issues of gender inequality and discrimination. Many award-winning actors and filmmakers have gone on to use their acceptance speeches as platforms to raise awareness and incite change while producers and casting directors choose scripts with strong female leads and the right artists to portray them. Although women face discrimination in many professional spheres, the film industry, in particular, has “substantial gender pay gaps” and “severe under-representation,” found UNESCO.
Last year, only “20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films” were women, according to a study from San Diego State University. Hollywood’s Time’s Up movement, known for high-profile celebrities from Meryl Streep to Reese Witherspoon donning all black at the Golden Globes in 2018, sparked a worldwide discussion on women’s empowerment and how to achieve gender-based parity in the industry while the United Nations’ HeforShe campaign catalyzed international support for gender equality with famous female faces like Emma Watson and Anne Hathaway leading the charge.
Yet, the Middle East is fighting their own fight within the film industry and already making strides towards lasting progress with increased representation, greater transparency, and narrowing pay gaps. Bringing together two of our longstanding missions of promoting regional talent and giving a voice to crucial issues, Vogue Arabia proudly join hands with Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) and the women who are striving to change what it means to be a woman in the Arab film industry, for the better.
Ahead of CIFF, we enlisted the help of famed actors Hend Sabri, Mona Zaki, Shereen Reda, Menna Shalaby, Nelly Karim, Hala Shiha, Nour, and Tara Emad to bring our vision to life in a video directed by Photo Boutique Egypt’s skilled filmmaker Nazly Abou Seif and photographer Shahira Zaki. The video is set to the powerful words once said by legendary Egyptian actor Faten Hamama: “I now think, or perhaps believe, I must always portray stories written by a woman. Because a woman knows how to express another woman’s demeanor. She can describe her character and portray her emotions perfectly. More than any man could.”
“Vogue Arabia is all about highlighting important issues that need to be discussed and inviting our readers to participate in meaningful debates,” notes editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut. “After speaking with many regional actresses and industry insiders, we realized that it would be important to discuss gender equality in the film industry, and call out topics such as equal pay and access to jobs behind the lens. We hope that through this video, we have a positive impact on the industry, as we are extremely proud of the end result.”
In October, the CIFF, the region’s oldest and largest annual film festival, joined Cannes, Venice, and Berlin’s festivals to become the first Arab film festival to sign the 5050×2020 gender equality pledge, an initiative committed to achieving equity in the film industry by 2020. “CIFF is proud to begin a new collaboration with Vogue Arabia,” remarked the festival’s president Mohamed Hefzy. “This video not only combines glamour with cinema but also sends a clear message that we are united in favor of empowerment and equal opportunities for women in film.”
Elsewhere in the Middle Eastern film industry, Arab women are achieving unignorable successes in spite of the disparity they often face — and becoming more vocally outspoken about it.
On working on this project, Photo Boutique Egypt’s Abou Seif and Zaki remarked, “‘Empowered women empower women.’ We love this saying and this project gave us the opportunity to do exactly this.
“It is vital for women to play a greater role in both films, and the film industry. Women don’t lack ambition, they lack opportunity. That’s why we’re especially happy to be part of this beautiful initiative. We think gender equality is something this industry needs to work on. Women are just as capable as men of making and seeing movies of all genres.
Adding: “It is absurd that in this time of age, men still have most of the decision-making powers in this industry, and since men have certain assumptions about and limitations for women — things such as women not starring in action movies — they end up hiring men. It is only natural that they look at the world from a different perspective, so we need to speak up and create art that expresses how we feel. The key to women proving that they are just as professionally capable as men, is making sure there are enough women in positions of professional power. We do need more women in the film industry.”
Award-winning Egyptian-Tunisian actor Hend Sabri became the first Arab woman to win a Starlight Cinema Award and join the jury for the Luigi De Laurentiis Award at this years’ Venice Film Festival. When asked if she feels that women have the same opportunities as men in the film industry she said, “No, I would be a hypocrite if I said we have the same opportunities. We don’t.”
“Men are paid — and I have been loud about this, I have been vocal about this for years now — our male peers are paid 3-4 times what we get paid, which is not fair. The answer to this from the producers is that we don’t generate as much money, but this, I think is a legend; this is not true and this is not based on real evidence.
“Proof is when we did The Blue Elephant 2, the highest-grossing film in the entire Egyptian film history. I was the villain in the film and I’m a woman, but it did not seem to influence the box office. On the contrary, it is the highest-grossing film and my part was very important in it. So I think, as women have to be more vocal and defend ourselves more and promote ourselves better as actresses but also as screenwriters, and producers. I’d like to see more women producers. They exist, but there aren’t enough. I’d like to see screenwriters and more directors. There is still inequality in our field.”
Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki rose to international fame with her emotionally-charged feature Capharnaüm, which not only premiered at Cannes but also won the prestigious Jury Prize, making her the first Arab female to do so. Gathering a series of award nominations from the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice Awards, Labaki uses her global success to influence conversations on poverty, homelessness, child rights, and more in an effort to instill better opportunities for all from a young age.
In Saudi Arabia, two female directors are continuously making history with films championing powerful female characters and challenging outdated stereotypes. Haifaa Al-Mansour’s debut film, Wadjda, was the Kingdom’s first Academy Awards entry back in 2012 and this year, another of the award-winning director’s films has been chosen to represent Saudi Arabia in the international feature film category at the Oscars. As the country’s first woman filmmaker who has since gone on to direct Hollywood blockbusters, Al-Mansour was surprised at the new Saudi Arabia she returned to when casting for The Perfect Candidate.
“There is something different about me returning to my country, it is a different experience than any other, and I saw the change after I came back,” Al-Mansour previously told Vogue.me. “I found so many actresses who came forward for the casting of the lead role, which really surprised me,” said Al-Mansour.
Meanwhile, another Saudi-Arabian director, Shahad Ameen, is making her own waves in the regional cinema world with a monochromatic film Scales created by the UAE and shot in Oman premiering and winning the Verona Film Club Award at the Venice Film Festival this year. The upcoming gala screening of this film at CIFF will also see the celebration of the 5050×2020 gender equality pledge signing.
With the West and the Middle East striving for change in their respective film industries, it has become apparent that gender equality is not a phenomenon that will disappear after a few years, but instead a hope soon becoming a reality for future generations of Arab women.
Directing: Photo Boutique X IkonXcollective
Editing: Photo Boutique
Cinematography: Nadim Georges
Styling: Yasmine Eissa
Makeup: Diana Harby, Agnieszka Hoscilo
Intro Music: Hashem El Saifi
Music Licensing: CORD Warsaw
Sound Design: Hosny Ali @ The Garage
Coloring: M Sami Nassar @ Vivid Studios
Hair: Shady @ Al Sagheer Salons
Focus Pullers: Sherif George Abd El Rahman El Fouli
Steadicam Technicians: Ahmad Hassan Taha
Lighting Crew: Omar Mamdouh, Tarek Abd El Ghafar, Ezzat Shiha
Wardrobe Team: Maha Abdel Qader, Yasmine El Tayeb, Habiba Rahouma
Production: Mohamed el Rahal
Production Manager: Mohamed el Saidi
Nails: Al Sagheer Salons
Location: Aisha Fahmy