Egypt’s film stars rally behind Mona Zaki over 'Perfect Strangers’ controversy

Netflix’s first Arabic-language feature film ‘Ashaab Walla A’aaz’ has been bombarded with criticism since its release on Thursday

Egyptian actress Mona Zaki poses to cameras during the opening ceremony of the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) at Cairo Opera House.
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Egypt’s large film community has rallied behind actress Mona Zaki against a wave of criticism for her role in the Netflix remake of Perfect Strangers.

Ashaab Walla A’aaz has dominated the Egyptian media since its release on Thursday, with thousands of commentators weighing in on both sides of the argument.

Critics of the film denounced its portrayal of same-sex relationships and marital infidelity. Others took issue with its depiction of alcohol use and out-of-wedlock relationships.

The criticism sparked strong support for Zaki, with many of the biggest names in Egypt’s film industry denouncing calls for Netflix to be blocked.

The film’s plot follows a group of close friends at a dinner party who decide to play a game. They must place their smartphones on a table, and share every call, text and voice message they receive with the rest of the group.

Over the course of the evening, the players’ most intimate secrets are revealed. One is in a same-sex relationship and another is having an extramarital affair.

In a complaint to the speaker of the House of Deputies, MP Mustafa Bakry said the film breached Egyptian family values. One of the country’s top lawyers then threatened to sue the culture ministry if the film was not blocked.

Veteran actress Elham Shahin phoned in to a popular talk show on Sunday night to passionately defend the film.

“I really don’t know what’s going on any more. I watched the film and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There isn’t even a single profanity there. The whole thing takes place around a dinner table,” Shahin, 61, told El Hekaya, a popular talk show hosted by Amr Adeeb.

Zaki is the only cast member who is Egyptian. The film is set in Lebanon.

On Monday, Egypt’s actors’ guild issued a statement expressing its solidarity with Zaki, and promised to back her in any legal proceedings taken against her because of her role in the film.

Actress Abeer Sabry also defended the film in a telephone interview with another talk show. She said she wasn’t surprised that Egyptian audiences had reacted in this way.

“Egyptians have always made a habit of attacking the arts. It’s usually because of serious misinformation being circulated on social media,” Sabry said. “But if I was offered a role like the one Mona Zaki played, I would take it, no question.”

Another veteran Egyptian actress, Laila Elwi, 60, came to Zaki’s defence. She told a television interviewer the film boldly addressed social issues that should not be swept under the carpet.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 4:14 AM