CAIRO: The script of a movie based on the novel a “House of Flesh” has been rejected by the art censorship authority on grounds that it “incites incest,” although a number of short films with the same plot have previously represented Egypt in several festivals.
“The audience should judge a film, not the censorship authority. The authority is not entitled to choose what people watch, but the state in general follows an authoritarian and patriarchal approach, forgetting that it is an administrative body,” Karim Abdel Rady, researcher and lawyer at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI,) told The Cairo Post Tuesday.
For his part, scriptwriter of the rejected film Lenin el-Ramly told Youm7 that “the censorship authority is merely a group of employees who do not appreciate freedom of creativity,” adding that he has become accustomed to such disapprovals.
He set the example of his movie the Ostrich and the Peacock, which was only produced after a 30-year ban because its name was originally the School of Sex. The film is about two spouses who go to a sex therapist.
The head of the Culture’s Ministry censorship authority Abdel Sattar Fathy told Youm7 that he had an appointment with Ramly, but the scenarist “did not show up” and will arrange another meeting with him.
A House of Flesh
The author of the novel is prominent Egyptian writer Yusuf Idris, who died in 1991. The book has never been banned in the Egyptian book market, and discusses a widow and her three daughters who awaited marriage for many years to lift them out of poverty.
The mother marries a blind sheikh, and in time, the oldest daughter initiates a sexual relationship with her stepfather, tricking him by wearing her mother’s ring.
The mother and daughter fall into silence around the table when gathering for a meal, and later, the mother gives the ring to her second daughter, who also goes quiet after that, leaving small talk and laughter only for the youngest daughter and the oblivious sheikh.
The remaining daughter also takes the ring, and the sheikh seems to only focus on the ring, willfully ignorant of the body of who wears it.
“The role of the censorship authority should be very limited so as to rate films according to age groups; intervening by censoring a piece of work is an assault on freedom of creativity and a form of guardianship of people,” Abdel Rady told The Cairo Post.
Yusuf Idris and Sobky Productions
“At its core, ‘House of Flesh’ does not tackle incest; it rather discusses poverty and its impact on the society and how its repercussions are inhuman,” film critic Tarek al-Shennawy told Youm7, adding that incest is a social disease that exists and was briefly introduced in “Heena Maysara” (Waiting for Better Times,) a 2007 movie by director Khaled Youssef.
There has been severe societal criticism against movies produced by the Sobky family in recent years on grounds that its plots, it is claimed, spread a culture of violence and jeopardize ethics. The most recent Sobky movies usually depict a macho character that many Egyptians label a “thug,” belly dancers and young singers with loud music and lyrics that sexualize women and glorify fights and weapons.
Other than a movie adapted from Italian film Malèna, which was briefly banned then allowed in movie theaters in 2014, Sobky movies have not faced major difficulties with the censorship authority despite calls to boycott their productions due to being “overtly sexual.”
“The state is interested in maintaining the film industry and controlling it, perhaps to control the collective consciousness of citizens. It has double standards over what goes out to people and what does not, and that depends on the situation and people involved in the work; they are not fixed standards,” researcher Abdel Rady noted.
Scriptwriter twists plot to pass censorship
Ramly, the famous scriptwriter has drafted a modified script for the House of Flesh in effort to have its approved.
He depicts the youngest woman only as the biological daughter of the sheikh’s wife, and that the daughter refuses to engage in sexual activities. The three half-sisters share the same father, but have different mothers. The new plot avoid incest; in Islam, a man’s sexual relationship with his stepdaughter is considered incest, even if he is separated from the mother with divorce or death.
“The censorship authority always takes a superficial look and does not study the crux of the matter,” Shennawy told Youm7.
The censorship authority should have a societal outlook and include a psychologist and a sociologist to protect the interests of the society, rather than being a “shield for the interests of the ruling regime,” the critic said.
Additional reporting by Asmaa Mamoun