Born in the early 1930s in Egypt’s Delta town of Mansoura, Faten Hamama spent most of her life behind the camera. After captivating the judges at a beauty pageant for children (picture an Arab version of Shirley Temple), Hamama’s father sent her photo to prominent Egyptian director Mohammed Karim, who hastily cast her to play a role in his 1939 film Happy Day (Youm Sa’eed). After this role, Hamama managed to charm Karim, who continued to cast her in roles in the coming years until her success became overwhelming.
In 1946, the young actress moved to Cairo and began to study at the High Institute of Acting. That same year, director Youssef Wahbi cast 15-year-old Hamama for the lead role in the film Malak-al Rahma (Angel of Mercy). The film was an immediate success, and propelled the starlet to the top of the Egyptian cinema charts. Three years later, Hamama played leading roles in other Wahbi films, leading then into the 1950s, often refered to as the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema. In 1952, Hamama was nominated in the Cannes Film Festival for her role in Lak Yawm Ya Zelem (Your Day Will Come), and played a key role in one of Egypt’s most legendary directors, Youssef Chahine‘s film, Struggle in the Valley. This film turned out to play a key role in her life, as she was introduced to Omar Sharif, who later became her husband. While most of her success remained in the Middle East and Egypt, Hamama did also play a key role in a 1963 Hollywood crime film entitled Cairo.
Though Hamama took an interim from acting from 1993 until 2000, she returned with a vengeance with the extremely popular masalsalat (mini-series), Wajh al-Qamar (Face of the Moon). Later that year, Hamama was honored as the Star of the Century by the Egyptian Writers and Critics Organization. Seven years later, eight films starring Hamama were listed in the top 100 Egyptian films of all time by the Supreme Council of Culture in Cairo.
Faten Hamama was an icon in Egyptian cinema, the golden lady of the silver screen, immortalized with her velvety-rich voice and wisps of thick, dark hair, who challenged gender stereotypes and continued to push for her dreams despite the various stigmas placed on women in film. Her roles in those now staticky, black-and-white romance scenes transport the Arab World to a time when film represented so much about our culture, and united us all. The Middle East has lost a wonderfully talented, charismatic icon.
What was your favorite Faten Hamama film? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter @BarakaBits!
For more information: Visit the official website of talented artist Chant Avedissian here.