Their Time Has Come: Representations of Masculinities in Arab Cinema – A Lecture by Rasha Salti

On Sunday, Rashi Salti gave a lecture on the subject of “Their Time Has Come: Representations of Masculinities in Arab Cinema.” Salti, who divides her time between Berlin and Beirut, is a well-known curator and author who works for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.

Whilst researching for the lecture, Salti had not focused on films from Egypt. Egyptian cinema had already been thoroughly studied – it would therefore be more appropriate to look at films from other Arab countries more closely. In addition, she selected films which break with male stereotypes and provoke through their representations of masculinity. Salti researched four recurring themes, which gave her many examples of films.


Aysegül Kandemir

A classic image of the man in Arabic cinema which is frequently reproduced in film is the political / military leader, the liberator, general, president or king. Salti exemplified this theme through the movie Stars in Broad Daylight by Osama Mohamed. It was one of the first films which had dared to question the leading elite of Syria. The film has been banned in that country since its release in 1988. Stars in Broad Daylight deals with masculinity, constructions of the relationship of the father to his sons and his desire to educate the sons to be good good men. In the film excerpt that Salti showed, being a man is closely linked with the desire to become a good soldier. In this section, Salti also showed clips from three films that addressed the political and military leadership in Morocco – The End, Starve your Dog and Headbang Lullaby by Hisham Lasri. Salti said that the Arab Spring marked a crucial turning point and that the era of absolute, unrestricted power of many Arab rulers which started in 1970 ended in 2011. This change also brought lasting effects in cinema.

Another recurring theme is that of the righteous citizen who acts proudly and sincerely. A film that takes up this motif is The Leopard by Nabil al-Maleh. Incidentally this film is known as one of the first films that showed a full-frontal nude shot of a woman. The Leopard tells the story of a classic Robin Hood style character who fought against the French colonial rulers and robbed rich people of their posessions. The protagonist does the right thing in the face of the prevailing system. Other films that tell of righteous heroes are Carnack by Aly Badrakhan or Merzak Allouache’s The Man Who Was Watching Windows. The character of the righteous citizen changed along with the socio-political situation. At the moment, it is especially in vogue to depicy young, ambitious men who are frustrated by unemployment and the stagnation of society. An example of this is the film Death for Sale by Faouzi Ben Saidi from the year 2011.

Salti also dealt with the motif of the soldier and the war, as these are frequently discussed topics in Arab films. Films that correlate war and soldierhood with the portrayal of masculinity include Little Wars (Maroun Baghdadi), Nights of the Jackass, Sacrifice (Osama Mohamed), Wedding in Galilee (Michel Khleifi), Diary of a Male Whore (Tawfik Abu Wael) and Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman).

The last theme that Rasha Salti dealt with in her talk is that of the male body, subconscious desire and sexuality. An important film here is Man of Ashes by Nouri Bouzid, which discusses the topic of sexual abuse of children very openly. Bouzid also tackles the issue of sex tourism in one of his films, Bezness. Other films included in this category include Dreams Often He City (Mohammad Malas), My Wife And The Dog (Said Marzouk), Verbal Letters (Abdellatif Abdul-Hamid) and The Closed Doors (Atef Hetata). Salti also mentioned an encouraging development in open representations of homosexuality and the queering of the male body. Although homosexuals have always been part of Arab film, they have always been represented pejoratively. She is therefore pleased about films such as Cinema Fouad (Mohamed Soueid) or Majnounak (Akram Zaatari) – both shown at this year’s ALFILM Festival. Also worth mentioning are The Sea is Behind, Much loved and Salvation Army.

Summing up, Salti concludes that the images of Arab masculinity reproduced in the film are changing irreversibly. A major contributing factprhas been the socio-political changes since 2011.