The race to the top on the world stage

The Africa Report - - DOSSIER -

IN 1958 CAIRO STA­TION, di­rected by Youssef Chahine in a style com­pa­ra­ble to Ital­ian ne­o­re­al­ism, be­came the first Arab or African film ever to com­pete for an Os­car nom­i­na­tion, in the Best For­eign Lan­guage Film cat­e­gory. Egypt has sent 32 more en­tries for the award to date – more than any other Arab coun­try – but none have won the prize. The Egyp­tian Acad­emy is known for se­lect­ing films to send to the Os­cars that are con­tro­ver­sial at home. Egyp­tian par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and Mus­lim cler­ics tried to ban 2006’s The Ya­coubian Build­ing by Mar­wan Hamed for its de­pic­tion of Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Most re­cently Mo­hamed Diab’s Eshte­bak (‘ Clash’), which had al­ready been in the of­fi­cial se­lec­tion at the Cannes Fes­ti­val and in­spired Tom Hanks to write a fan let­ter to the di­rec­tor, irked the rul­ing elite with its Arab Spring theme. The film was shot in se­cret, en­tirely in the back of a po­lice van. Af­ter Diab was sub­ject to a me­dia smear cam­paign that claimed his film was part of an in­ter­na­tional con­spir­acy, his Egyp­tian dis­trib­u­tor pulled out at the last minute. An­other stepped in, the film was re­leased in fewer the­atres, but still topped the Egyp­tian box of­fice with $225,000 in its first week. Diab thinks the de­ci­sion to let the film be screened was a dam­age lim­i­ta­tion ex­er­cise by the govern­ment: “They didn’t want to give the film the ‘banned’ la­bel,” he told The Hol­ly­wood Reporter. “Why ban the film and face an in­ter­na­tional scan­dal when they can kill it be­hind the scenes? That’s the new model on the rise, and it’s called Egypt.”

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