Netflix’s Arabic-language first film, “The First,” has caused a stir in Egypt. Critics are calling for its ban for encouraging homosexuality and degrading family values.
‘Ashab wala Aaz’ – one of countless remakes of the Italian comedy-drama ‘Perfetti Sconosciutti’ (Perfect Strangers) – features renowned actors from Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, including Egyptian star Mona Zaki.
This movie tells the story of a group friends who meet for dinner. They decide to make it more fun by sharing every email, text and phone call with each other.
As the events play out, shocking revelations are revealed about group members as the game touches upon topics such as adultery, premarital sexual sex, and homosexuality. All of these subjects are taboos here in Egypt.
Film released January 20th, the film quickly shot up the Egyptian most-watched lists, while simultaneously sparking a massive backlash against explicit topics discussed in the group’s discussions.
“Ashab Wala Aaz” – one among many remakes of the Italian comedy-drama Perfetti Sconosciutti (Perfect Strangers), has caused a stir in Egypt. Critics are calling for its ban for encouraging homosexuality and degrading family values.
The ensuing chaos has seen lawsuits filed against both the culture ministry as well as the censor’s bureau for permitting the film to stream. MPs also called for special sessions to consider whether Netflix should be banned.
On the internet, many criticised Mona Zaki, an Egyptian actress, for participating in what they called a disgraceful’ movie.
The streaming company from America has not commented on the stormy situation.
A lawyer claimed that the movie promotes homosexuality, while another stated it seeks “to destroy family values” as part of an ongoing’systematic battle on Egyptian morals”.
Even though homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited in Egypt, there are often loose laws against ‘debauchery.
Furthermore, the religiously conservative society is known to discriminate against LGBT persons.
Mostafa Bakry, a lawmaker, argued that Netflix should be completely banned. He called for an urgent meeting with parliament to address the matter.
This movie, Netflix’s first Middle Eastern-themed film, features well-known actors from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Mona Zaki, an Egyptian actress, is particularly controversial.
One scene that featured an actor playing the role of a father to his teenage daughter was particularly criticized by him. He discussed it with his daughter, and he also criticised another.
Egypt bans premarital sex. This is especially true in rural Egypt.
Bakri stated that the network is targeting Arab and Egyptian citizens. He also suggested that Netflix should be banned.
According to him, the movie contains’more that 20 suggestive profanities that shocked Egyptian families.
Netflix said the feature was not appropriate for children under 16. However, it didn’t contain any sex scenes or nudity.
Tarek Shennawy, an Egyptian film critic, said that he was surprised by the attack on Mona Zaki.
Zaki was particularly criticized for the scene where she took off her pants to reveal her underwear.
Social media users saw this scene as shameful for Helmi and her husband, the acclaimed actor Ahmed Helmi.
Twitter user asks: “How did Ahmed Helmi permit his wife to play such a role in the movie?”
While one lawyer claimed that the movie promotes homosexuality, another stated it seeks “to destroy family values” as part of an ongoing’systematic battle on Egyptian morals”. Mostafa Bakry, a lawmaker, argued that Netflix should be completely banned. He called for an urgent meeting with parliament to address the matter.
One other person asked Zaki how she ‘wasn’t afraid for her daughter’s to be this bold.
Shennawy however argued that the content of the film should not be detrimental to national honors or the personal dignity of those who participated in it.
“We confuse fiction with reality, and it is extremely strange.”
Egyptian cinema is known for making films that challenge social norms.
Nearly twenty years ago, the infamous ‘Sahar al-Layali (Sleepless Nights), discussed the difficulties faced by unmarried young couples.
This also brought up topics like adultery and classism as well as sexual dissatisfaction with marriages.
Cinemas showed ‘The Yacoubian building’ in 2006, adapted from Alaa Al-Aswany’s best-selling novel. It explicitly addressed homosexuality.
One of the most ironic things about the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival was that it awarded the top prize to Perfetti Sconosciutti.
Egypt is becoming more conservative, and freedoms are being further restricted under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo taken January 10, 2014).
The public has been unable to stomach such movies due to Egypt’s growing conservatism and the restriction of freedoms under President Abdelfattah al Sisi. He took office in 2014.
However, the film was defended by others who saw it as accurate representations of reality.
Khaled Ali, a prominent leftist lawyer who was once a presidential candidate, wrote that it is “bold, unorthodox and broached subjects that Arabic cinema has not discussed before.”
“It’s real, regardless of how hard we attempt to ignore, deny or silence it.”