Faten Hamama – The Timeless Queen of the Arabic Screen
Little wonder she is called The Lady of The Arabic Screen, it’s a well deserving name for a lady who has become an icon and the most important actress of Egyptian and Arabic cinema if you ask me.
Faten has defied the age long saying, the older you get, the less active you become. In fact for this actress, it is the other way round.
Every decade of her life in the industry has proved an indescribable progression. I find nothing worthy with which to compare the enormous progression that has taken place in her career, from the day she mentioned her intention to her father as a six year old till now.
Hmmmm, maybe I just found something that can attempt to give a little insight to what I mean albeit from a distance. You remember the saying about old wine? Yeah, exactly my point! Faten has only got better with age, and promises to even get much better.
The brilliant actress was born in 1931 in Elmasoura Egypt; she is the daughter of an employee of the Egyptian Ministry of Education and the second of four children.
Faten grew with a great love for acting, she says her role model at the time was Assia Dagher, a very popular and widely acclaimed actress. Faten desired to be as popular as her role model.
At age six, Faten went to the theatre with her father to watch an Assia Dagher film, and when the audience clapped for Assia, she whispered to her father that she felt, they were clapping for her.
As a child Faten knew what she wanted and quickly went for it, and would not give in to childish distractions. Few years later, she took part in a children’s beauty pageant in Egypt and won.
Her father overwhelmed with delight sent her picture to the director Mohammed Karim who was looking for a young female child to play the role of a small girl with the famous actor and musician Mohamed Abdel Wahab in the film Yawm Said (Happy Day, 1939).
The events that followed changed little Faten’s life totally; she was called up by the director and was given the role, which she played excellently and that earned her the title “Egypt’s own Shirley Temple”.
The director liked her acting and was impressed with her so much that he signed a four year contract with her father. And that incident launched Faten unto greater heights.
Few years later, Faten was chosen by Kareem for another role with Abdel Wahab in the film Rossassa Fel Oalb (Bullet in the heart in 1944) and then in another movie two years later Dunyan (Universe). After which the actress moved to Cairo with her parents.
In no time her talent was discovered again, this time by Youssef Wahbi, a famous Egyptian director and actor (also known as the Dean of Egyptian theatre), who then offered Faten the lead role in his movie Malak al- Rahma (Angel of Mercy).
The movie which was a blockbuster attracted widespread media attention and Faten who was only 15 at the time became the reigning star for her melodramatic role in the film. And by 1949, the star had featured in three other successful films with Wahbi.
The 1950s birthed a new era for the Egyptian cinema or what could be referred to as the beginning of the golden age of the Egyptian cinema industry. With this delivery came an introduction of new directors in the Egyptian cinema who found Faten worthy of handling more complex roles.
Such as Sira’ Fi Al-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley, 1954) where she played the role of a rich man’s daughter who, contrary to stereotype, was a realistic woman who helped and supported the poor.
And then in the 1952 film Miss Fatmah, Faten starred as a law student who believed women were as important as men in the society. In Imbratoriyat Meem (The Empire of M), she played the role of a widow who takes care of her large family and suffers hardship.
These movies were not only appreciated because they were entertaining, they were mainly seen to be didactic, and they also voiced out the problems of the Egyptian women in a society resistant to modernity. Her most influential film was Oridu Hallan (I Want a Solution) which criticized the laws of marriage and divorce in Egypt.
The movie queen also starred in the film Lak Yawm Ya Zalem (Your Day will Come) which was nominated in the Cannes Film Festival for the Prix International award.
When asked about her exceptional works she says;
“I’m very proud of everything I gave so far. Act and acting is not only about fame and publicity, it’s more serious business. If everyone does their work seriously with respect, they will be proud of it. I believe in the saying, “the art is all what sublimates the human feeling…..and all what falls by the feeling does not belong to art”.
She has also gathered several awards and honors for her outstanding works like
- the Prize of Recognition and Life Achievement Award from the Organization of Cinematic Art for her role in the film Leilet Al Qabd Ala Fatma (1984),
- Best Actress Award in the Carthage International Film Festival in Tunisia for her role in Yawm Mur Yawm Hilw (Bitter Days.. Nice Days) in 1988,
- Best Artistic Achievement Award in the Cairo International Festival in 1991,
- Lifetime Achievement Award in the Montpelier Mediterranean Film Festival in1993,
- Best Actress award in the Cairo International Festival for her contributions to the Egyptian Cinema where 18 of her films were selected amongst the best 150 films ever made until 1996 during the celebration of 100 years of cinema 1996.
- Decoration of Creativity of first degree from the Lebanese prime minister Prince Khaled Shehab (1953),
- Decoration of Republic of first degree for Art from president Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in 1965,
- Decoration of State of the first order from President Mohamed Anwar Sadat during first Art festival (1976),
- Honorary award from the Egyptian National Festival for Cinema for her long distinguished cinematic career (1995) To mention a few.
She was also awarded a PhD from the American University in Cairo. As a way of expressing her gratitude, she says;
“I believe this means honoring all the artists in Egyptian cinema and Egyptian art. I was very pleased by this honor; despite all other prizes I have previously achieved. The honorary of a doctorate from a scientific and an internationally certified educational board has a different taste”.
During the 100th year celebration of Egyptian cinema in 1996, Faten was chosen as the country’s most important actress, and 18 of her films were selected among the best 150 made to that time. Little wonder she was named the Star of the Century by the Organization of Critics and Writers.
She was the wife of the popular actor Omar Shariff, with whom she acted several romantic movies like, Our Best Days in 1955, Lady of the Castle (1959), No Tomorrow (1958) and Siraa Fil-Wadi (1954). The couple got a divorce in 1974, which led Omar to make what became a famous statement about Faten, that he only married once because he only loved once, and that was Faten. Touching right?
Faten later married Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab Mahmoud, an Egyptian physician. They currently reside in Cairo.
I could on and on telling the story of this great achiever; I wouldn’t have had a story to tell about her if she hadn’t pursued her dream to bring it to accomplishment. It started as a childhood dream but she kept at it. I have just two questions for you my friend, what dream do you have? And what are you doing about it?
© 2013, Lovelyn Okafor. All rights reserved.
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December 16th, 2013