One of the current topics in critical discussions on the Arab cinema is the gendered nature of nationalist and national themes. It has been repeatedly said that in the Egyptian cinema, Egypt itself is often represented by an idealized woman. Both Viola Shafik (1998) and Lina Khatib (2006) make much of this idea, and investigate it with reference to particular films. In this context the idealizing title sayidat al-shasha al-arabiyya, (i.e. the lady of the Arab screen) has been universally granted to Faten Hamama, the grande dame of the Egyptian cinema and one of the most prolific of its actresses, and thus she is the ideal embodiment on the screen not only of Egyptian and Arab womanhood, but also of Egypt’s view of itself and of the Arab world. To study the output of Faten Hamama is to have an idea of how Egyptians – and perhaps all Arabs – like to see themselves, and especially their women. But to arrive at a clearer idea of the self-definition of the Arab world and its fantasy of the feminine ideal I believe it would be helpful to contrast her work with that of Hind Rustom, who both in her physical appearance and the persona she represents on screen is almost directly antithetical to Faten.
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