Women in Arab cinema: an interview with Hend Sabry

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

What challenges face actresses in the Arab region? And what opportunities might they enjoy? Award-winning Hend Sabry (left), one of the most celebrated actresses in Egypt and the Arab region, shares her views on women in Arab cinema.


What drew you to acting?

It was a coincidence really. I was spotted by a director when acting in high school play. I was just 14 years old. Then I discovered that creating another world and making people believe in it is a lot of fun. I love acting because it gives me the freedom to explore and express different aspects of my personality.

What challenges do actresses face in Arab cinema?

We face many challenges. We are paid far less than our male counterparts, and we also get less exposure than they do. There are also far fewer scripts written for female characters. Male characters predominate and remain the motor of Arab cinema. Producers and distributors generally still don’t see actresses in the region as powerhouses who can boost box office revenues. Also, women who become professional actors are held to a different standard than men. They are often stigmatized and face many social taboos unlike men.

Why are events such as the Cairo International Women’s Film Festival important?

Such events are a very good thing because they celebrate the achievements of women. But, in general, I am not a big fan of so-called “woman’s film”. A film is universal and is designed to trigger emotions, thoughts or discussion of an issue. There is no such thing as a man’s film or a woman’s film; there are good films and bad films. There are good films about women and bad ones too. We need to celebrate our successes and all the amazing female talent that exists within the Arab film industry. That’s the best way to support women in film. We need more beautiful stories about women and we need more writers, both male and female, to create strong female characters for film.

Why did you study law? What drew you to it?

After college, I dreamed of joining the Tunisian Foreign Service and law seemed a good option for such a career. But destiny decided otherwise. After I got my law degree, I moved to Egypt and became a professional actress. That’s when I decided I wanted to complement my knowledge of the law, and intellectual property (IP), in particular copyright law, seemed a perfect fit. It allowed me to blend my interest in law with my work as an actress.

Why is it important for actors to be IP aware?

Generally speaking, actors need to understand their IP rights because they are the means by which they can earn a decent living from their work. IP is their bread and butter. But in some countries, for example in Western industrialized countries, the copyright system...

To continue reading