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Posts Tagged ‘Hind Rostom


“Seduction” in Arab Cinema: An Extinct Genre


Although at the outset, Arab cinema wasn’t that bold when it came to “ighraa” – or “seduction” in Arabic, a term used to refer to sensual scenes– it must be recognized that whether seduction was present or absent, earlier films were like a dream for the Arab public, for what they featured in kissing, women, and seductive dancers.

Leila Murad was perhaps the first Arab woman to capture the public’s eye, even if she wasn’t the first female actress on the silver screen.

The “Harp,” as Murad was called, didn’t appear in any seduction scenes. Back then, the most sensual thing one could hope for in a movie was a kiss at the end. But Murad was the embodiment of romantic seduction.

After Leila Murad, it was actress Faten Hamama’s turn in the limelight. But Hamama, too, maintained her restraint on the screen, and was never a symbol of seduction, but was, again, a symbol of romanticism.

Real seduction scenes in Egyptian movies produced during that period featured primarily belly dancers (Samia GamalTahia CariokaNaima Akef) who attracted moviegoers to come and “peep.” The presence of a belly dancer was the backbone of the film, and the sure way to make it a box office success. Producers thought of seduction films as a great way to boost revenues.

At the end of the 1940s, actress Hind Rostom made her film debut in a secondary role. She would continue to appear in similar roles until director Hassan Imam took her under his wing in the mid-1950s, giving her roles in a series of movies that made her “the preeminent seduction star in Egyptian cinema.”

Rostom and Imam would collaborate again in the 1960s and the actress was given the lead roles in Imam’s two films Chafika the Coptic Girl and The Nun, further establishing her credentials as a seduction idol.

Film critic Tareq al-Shennawi proclaimed once that Hind Rostom’s brand of seduction wasn’t explicit but suggestive. He wrote, “It was enough for her to wear a traditional robe in Youssef Chahine’s The Iron Gate, Atef Salem’s Struggle on the Nile, or Fatin Abdel Wahab’s Hamidu’s Son, for her to be instantly desired by all men.”

During Gamal Abdel Nasser’s mandate, seduction in film continued in “polite” form, perhaps because of the ideological halo of the Egyptian revolution and the rosy dreams of pan-Arabism. Films never crossed the so-called red lines, and belly dancers were censored and forced to adhere to a specific dress code.

But after the Arab defeat of 1967, as Itidal Mumtaz wrote in her book Memoirs of a Film Censor, presidential instructions were given to censors to allow sex and drug scenes in movies, and not to cut any of them no matter how daring they may be, in an attempt to distract people away from the defeat and the feelings of frustration that came along.

Dozens of seduction films were shot, featuring the stars of that generation such as Shams al-Baroudi, who starred in the biggest number of movies – of this genre – most notably Salah Abu Seif’s The Bathhouse of Malatily and Mervat Amin, who starred in The Greatest Child in the World with Rushdi Abaza, directed by Jalal al-Sherqawi.

There were also Nadia Lutfi in My Father atop a Tree featuring several kissing scenes with Abdel Halim Hafez (directed by Kamal al-Sheikh), in addition to Naglaa Fathi in The Passion and the Body by Hassan Ramzi, Suhair Ramzi in The Culprits by Said Marzouk, Souad Hosni in The Well of Deprivation by Kamal al-Sheikh, and Zizi Mustafa in The Adolescent Girls by Ahmed Diaa al-Din, to name but a few.

Full nudity in Arab film began in Beirut, in Lebanese cinema, with director Samir Khoury’s 1972 film The Lady of the Black Moons.

The film stars Nahed Yusri in addition to a number of other actors. At the time, the Department of Censorship of Publications and Artistic Recordings insisted on giving the film an adults-only rating.

Two years later, Khoury’s encore came in Wolves that Don’t Eat Meat (starring Nahed Sharif). The film was shot in Kuwait, because of the liberal climate there at the time! Nudity in the Lebanese director’s films was unabashed, and wasn’t even veiled with a “fig leaf,” so to speak.

Birds flew over the actress’s naked body, as the male lead showered it with kisses – at times on the sandy beach, and at others in the bedroom.

Even today, the actresses who appeared in Khoury’s films remain groundbreaking symbols in the history of cinema, and are trending names online for having appeared in “adults-only” films.

After Nahed Yusri and Nahed Sharif, it was the turn of the Syrian actress known as Ighraa, who appeared topless in front of the camera before actor Khaled Taja, who rubbed cream on her breasts as she lay down.

In The Panther by Nabil al-Maleh, Ighraa not only exchanged a passionate kiss with actor Adib Qaddoura, but bared it all for him in the love scenes directed by Maleh.

Subsequent Syrian films didn’t live up to the level of Ighraa’s seduction. However, censors who allowed Maleh’s film to be shown would years later delete the “racy” scenes from cinematic memory forever. The seduction wave in Syrian and Lebanese cinema didn’t last long, whether because of civil war or censorship.

In Egypt, with the retirement of Shams al-Baroudi, and the receding stardom of Mervat, Suhair, and Naglaa compared to other male stars, the film scene was ready for the emergence of a seduction star of a different kind, Nadia al-Jundi.

Nadia became known for her contrived roles, and rose to fame after starring in the film Bamba Kashar, which ushered in a phase of biopics about belly dancers in Egyptian cinema.

Nadia continued to be an unrivaled seduction star until Nabila Ebeid rose to renown. Ebeid appeared in similar roles as Jundi in films like Please Give Me That Medicine and Ayam Fil Halal (aka Marital Bliss).

Nadia and Nabila continued to compete for stardom and box-office success until they both aged and retired. They competed in an era where handsome or leading men dominated, such as Adel Imam, Mahmoud Yassin, Nour El-Sherif, Hussein Fahmi, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, and Ahmad Zaki.

By comparison, the 1980s and 1990s was an era of subpar seduction movies. Despite the many daring roles that Elham Shaheen and others starred in, the prostitute characters that Yusra played in a number of films, such as “A Woman on the Verge of Falling,” and despite the attempts of director Inas El-Degheidy to tackle themes like sexuality and sexual perversion in her films, this period couldn’t produce a true rival to Nadia al-Jundi or Nabila Ebeid, or fill the void they had left behind when they moved on from cinema by virtue of their age.

In the past few years, there were signs of a revival in the seduction genre, with director Khaled Youssef casting the duo Somaya El Khashab and Ghada Abdel Razek in his films “In Better Times” and “Chief Omar Harb.”

The two actresses rebelled against the zeitgeist dominated by so-called clean cinema, which meant movies had to be free of kissing and sex scenes, in line with the mentality of “prohibition” that had become commonplace in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Although there have been many seduction stars in the history of cinema, the seduction genre, for a large segment of the moviegoers, remains linked to a few names, most notably Hind Rostom and Souad Hosni.

In truth, Hind Rostom is considered the sexiest and most attractive actress among the public, and no star could ever overtake her, even the stars of the 1970s like Nahed Sharif, Madiha Kamel, and Mervat Amin, or the stars of the 1980s like Elham Shaheen, Yusra, Nabila Ebeid, and Nadia al-Jundi, not to mention the stars of our present day.

Hind Rostom rekindled the notion of femininity with her body language, and was able, even in a traditional cloak, to stir up a whirlwind of swooning men around her, something that not even a modern girl in a party dress or a revealing gown can claim.

For her part, Souad Hosni combined sensuality with innocence and mischievousness, an ideal combination for men, lying somewhere between the sensual Hind Rostom and the classical housewife-like beauty of Faten Hamama.

Both Souad, “the Sister of the Moon”, and Hind, “the Queen of Seduction“, were a source of inspiration when it came to seduction and playfulness for the starlets of the new generation.

It was as though the stars of our generation couldn’t get over the past, in an era of new political movements that aren’t only opposed to seduction, but cinema in and of itself.

Indeed, even before the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt, Egyptian society was already Islamized and wearing headscarves was a widespread practice. This conservative trend was reflected in Egyptian cinema and its patrons, concept, and future.

Since the 1980s, there was a curious phenomenon of “repenting” Egyptian actresses-turned-preachers, a trend that grew further in the 1990s.

One consequence was that the Egyptian film scene saw an onslaught of dancers from Eastern Europe, who acted more like a substitute for what was missing. In parallel, Lebanese actresses featured more and more in Egyptian films, to compensate for the absence of Egyptian actresses who no longer wanted to star in seductive roles.

Lebanese actresses who appeared in Egyptian films include the tediously seductive Nicole Saba, who appeared in a bikini in the film “The Danish Experience” alongside Adel Imam, and Haifa Wehbe, who appeared in a “polite” seductive role in the film “Shehata’s Shop” by Khaled Youssef.

Today, seduction in Arab cinema appears to be an extinct genre. It seems that no one’s left on the seductive scene other than Haifa Wehbe and her ilk.

This article was published on 24.02.2014
This article was published in its original Arabic version on 24.11.2013


موقع رصيف٢٢ غير مسؤول عن محتوى التعليقات التي ترده من الزائرين، ويتمنى على القرّاء الكرام التزام أدبيّات النقاش .

Belly dancing: Performed by white western women?

Google the term “belly dance” and the first images the search engine offers are of white women in flowing, diaphanous skirts, playing at brownness. How did this become acceptable?

Long time ago, I worked at Marrakesh Restaurant in Downtown Washington DC and a white US woman performed a belly dance during intermission. All applicants were US white women. If I knew a Lebanese dancing publicly for money I would have invited her to apply,

When eastern women danced for women alone, there was a different kind of eroticism, perhaps more powerful, definitely more playful, or maybe that’s how it felt to me, as a child and teenager, wary of men’s intentions.

 posted this MAR 5, 2014

Why I can’t stand white belly dancers

Whether they know it or not, white women who practice belly dance are engaging in appropriation

The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one.

In Arabic, this kind of dance is called Raqs Sharqi, or Eastern dance.

Belly dance, as it is known and practiced in the West, has its roots in white appropriation of Eastern dance. As early as the 1890s in the U.S., white “side-show sheikhs” managed dance troupes of white women, who performed belly dance at world’s fairs (fun trivia: Mark Twain made a short film of a belly dancer at the 1893 fair).

Many white women who presently practice belly dance are continuing this century-old tradition of appropriation, whether they are willing to view their practice this way or not.

Why I can't stand white belly dancers(Credit: ValaGrenier via iStock)

Growing up in the Middle East, I saw women in my community do Raqs Sharqi at weddings and parties. Women often danced with other women, in private spaces, so that this dance was for each other. When they danced at house parties with men in attendance, the dynamic shifted.

At weddings, the dancing was celebratory and flirty and beautiful, something a professional dancer would come in to do, and something that everyone else would continue engaging in.

If there was a drummer present, all the better. At my wedding, I was my own dancer. I hired a band that specialized in Arabic music and danced with my family and friends, not all of whom were Arab.

One of the most awkward occurrences for me when I go out to an Arabic restaurant is the portion of the evening when the white belly dancer comes out.

This usually happens on weekends, and I’ve learned to avoid those spaces then, but sometimes I forget.

The last time I forgot, a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as “Arabic” because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance.

She was not a terrible belly dancer. But she was incredibly thin and didn’t remind me, in any way, of Tahia Karioca or Hind Rostom or my absolute favorite Raqs Sharqi dancer, Fifi Abdo.

Abdo used to dance in the expected bra and skirt but later danced mostly in robes that were somewhat shapeless and more traditional — a kind of relaxed housewear- streetwear dress that folks in Egypt rock daily.

There are videos of her in these robes dancing at weddings and smoking sheesha while she dances. When I am having a particularly lousy day, I watch this video of her and dance along

At a movie theater in Cairo in 2007, I argued with a male friend about why the lead actress wore a strange, baggy dress underneath a bra-and-skirt dancing ensemble. He suggested that she was uncomfortable with her body; I suggested that the country was becoming more conservative and she was too much of a media darling to appear with her skin exposed.

Years later, the revolution happened, or tried to happen, and when the Muslim Brotherhood took over, and Western news outlets began publishing stories that claimed belly dancing was a dying art.

Tell that to the women on the streets and on rooftops and in bedrooms and living rooms and weddings dancing their hips off. (See this video, for example, of actual working-class Egyptian women of all sizes and ages dancing in the streets.)

The one interesting thing about these stories is that they reported that Western, or white women, were beginning to take over gigs in Egypt. These women moved there out of an obsession with belly dance and are now appropriating it from local dancers.

“It’s Arab face,” my friend Nadine once said, pointing at an invitation from a white acquaintance of hers. The invitation was printed on card stock and featured the woman and a dozen of her white friends dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories.

We wanted to call these women up and say, “How is this OK? Would you wear a dashiki and rock waspafarian dreads and take up African dance publicly? Wait,” we’d probably say, “don’t answer that.”

The most disturbing thing is when these women take up Arabic performance names — Suzy McCue becomes Samirah Layali. This name and others like it make no sense in Arabic.

This, in my estimation, completes the brownface Orientalist façade. A name. A crowning. A final consecration of all the wrongs that lead up to the naming.

Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.

These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late.

Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.

When I have argued, online and in person, with white women belly dancers, they have assured me that they learned to dance from Arab women and brown women. This is supposed to make the transaction OK.

Instead, I point out that all this means is that it is perfectly all right with these teachers that their financial well-being is based on self-exploitation.

As a follow-up, white belly dancers then focus on the sisterly and community aspect of belly dance. They claim that the true exploiter of belly dancing is Hollywood, and the Egyptian film industry, which helped take belly dancing out of women’s homes and placed it directly under the male gaze.

Here, the argument white belly dancers try to make ignores the long history of white women’s appropriation of Eastern dancing and becomes that this, the learning and performance of belly dance, is not about race and appropriation, but about gender and resisting the patriarchy and how all of us belly dancing together is a giant middle finger to men and their male gaze-y ways.

But, here’s the thing. Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips.

We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze.

Just because a white woman doesn’t profit from her performance doesn’t mean she’s not appropriating a culture. And, ultimately, the question is this: Why does a white woman’s sisterhood, her self-reclamation, her celebration, have to happen on Arab women’s backs?

This piece is the latest in a series by feminists of color, curated by Roxane Gay. To submit to the series, email

Randa Jarrar is the author of the novel, A Map of Home.




February 2023

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