Al-Ghouna, Egypt:Veteran actor Sheriff Monir, who walked out of a screening at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival this month, has led a patriotic backlash against the film for “representing Egypt negatively”. But others have praised director Omar El Zohari for shedding light both artistically and creatively on a real social problem.
Late Friday at the closing ceremony of the fifth edition of the El Gouna Film Festival, wingWon the award for Best Arab Fiction Film. “Any artistic work for me will always generate different ideas,” said Johari with a smile. AFP Addressing the issue after claiming the award, on the red carpet. “The film is more important than any award,” the director said. “The film stands strong because of its spirit, artistic authenticity … and human values.”
wingOm tells the story of Mario (Mario’s mother), a poor woman from the rural south, who struggles to meet her needs after her husband turns into a chicken. The absurd narrative is performed by an amateur cast, mostly from the country’s Coptic Christian minority. It was the first Egyptian feature film to win a major award at the star-studded Cannes Film Festival this year.
Opponents of the film, including pro-government lawmakers, accused Zohari of creating an exaggerated image of filth that has no relation to contemporary Egypt. Actor Monir said in a television interview this week, “The slums that we had and are now disappearing are better than the ones depicted in the film.” “The state has made great strides in dismantling slums and relocating people to excellent alternatively furnished housing … we are now in a new republic.”
Loyal MP Mahmood Badr took to Twitter to condemn “making a film depicting our country as if there was no development.” Samir Sabri, a lawyer prosecuting critics of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, filed a lawsuit against the film’s producers for “insulting Egypt and the Egyptians”.
But crowds of wealthy Egyptians who fell on each other to defend national pride over a film about government policy and poverty were widely teased on social media. Economic rights researcher Osama Diab said the film’s portrayal of poverty was by no means exaggerated, based on the government’s own figures.
Nearly one in three of Egypt’s 100 million people live below the poverty line. “According to official data, it has been steadily increasing in Egypt since the 90s,” said Diab. AFP. In the past two years, Covid-19 had deepened social inequality further due to the “disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the poor”, he said. “The highest concentration of poverty is among women living in the rural areas of Upper Egypt, which is ironically the setting of the film.”
Diab said poverty reduction has never been a priority for government economic policy, which was negotiated with the International Monetary Fund. Egypt adopted harsh austerity measures in 2016 to secure a US$12 billion loan from the IMF, including a devaluation of the Egyptian pound.
Last month, the IMF hailed the country as one of the few emerging markets that had weathered the pandemic and experienced positive growth. “The IMF 2016 program only talks about mitigating the shock of economic reforms, while they do not talk about eradicating poverty. It was never a goal in itself,” said Diab.
Film critic Tarek Al-Shenawi, who saw the first screening wingAt the Cannes Film Festival, the backlash against the film was described as “vulgar and silly”. “There is no artistic production that can really tarnish Egypt’s reputation,” said Shenawi AFP.
He praised the film as “great” artistically, with a “catchy story” and not insulting Egypt in any way. “If you are really shedding light on a social problem then you really want to advance your country, not insult,” he said.