While American women may tend to brag about more enlightened perceived gender attitudes in this country, if the Egyptian dramatic feature Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story is an indication, when it comes to film, US movies still have a long way to go. Opening the same day as The Help – which trivializes Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement as essentially a spiteful girl on girl catfight between black maids and the snobby Southern belles they worked for back then – Scheherazade is a heartfelt milestone in universal female consciousness by comparison.
And compounding the dismissive attitudes towards any movie derogatorily deemed a ‘chick flick,’ Scheherazade not only took two years to finally open here. But the sole venue to finally welcome this extraordinary film is a Harlem church.
A scathing update of the Thousand And One Nights classic rendering of a queen’s bid to remain alive through unique female survival instincts linked to the gift of gab, Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story plays out in contemporary Cairo, as talk show host Hebba (Mona Zakki) struggles to craft a serious political program that challenges government authority. Her show is a persistent thorn in the side of the Mubarak government, especially when Hebba subversively links the rise terrorism to poverty and unemployment, but her chief critic resides right at home. Hebba’s new, rather cocky spouse Karim (Hassan El Raddad) is anxiously awaiting news of a promotion to editor in chief at his newspaper. And he pressures Hebba to her dismay, that she must shift to less controversial fare in order not to hurt his chances.
Hebba then reluctantly refashions the show as strictly female conversation. And while the themes may have changed, Hebba’s inner rebel can’t resist perpetuating the tone. So the subsequent segments with women focus on having been profoundly scarred and oppressed by either the men in their lives, or existing unjust laws or traditions targeting women. And in a sense continuing Scheherazade’s metaphorical coping mechanism of urgent female voices as a tool of survival. Which, quite subversively by accident, turn out to be far more political than past topics on the program. A predicament facing Hebba in her own marriage, that leads the courageous host to end up herself as a victim guest on her own show.
Among the many themes graphically and explored in this movie, which are hardly likely to be encountered in American movies in such a candid and empathetic light, are domestic violence, legal and marital betrayal and exploitation, infidelity, defiant acts of liberation, and abortion. And a film that back in 2009, was surely a political prophesy conjured by director Yousry Nasrallah, of the historic Tahrir Square popular uprisings to come.
For more information about the theatrical release of Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story, visit ArtMattan Productions online at: Africanfilm.com