Last week, the biggest event in the showbiz calendar for the Western cinema industry, The Oscars, took place. This year’s awards ceremony however witnessed a dominant political presence through the nominated films. Forest Whitaker scooped the award for Best Actor for his role in ‘The Last King of Scotland’ as the African leader, Idi Amin, whilst Helen Mirren won the Oscar for Best Actress for her part in ‘Queen’ that depicts the life of British Queen Elizabeth II. ‘Babel’ also emerged a winner at the awards ceremony where it won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. This film looks at three countries and the development of globalization. As for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, this was handed to ex-Vice President, Al Gore for ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Many had expected Al Gore to announce his presidential candidacy for the 2008 elections if he won the Oscar award, however this did not happen.
One cannot overlook the importance of this event that celebrates the seventh art and those who contribute to it. One must compare the role of cinema and politics in the Arab world and the political use of film. Mustapha al Akkad, the hero who was assassinated at the hands of the deplorable Abu Musab al Zarqawi, believed that film was the strongest and most influential of art forms. He cited his experience in his film, ‘The Message’ and the extent to which it was attacked as well as the fact that it was banned from being screened in some cinemas and on television. Time, however, showed that the film was more influential than many speeches and books in depicting the greatness of Islam. A good number of films have taken on the role of political criticism such as, ‘Adrift on the Nile’ that looked at the status of Egyptian society following the 1967 defeat, ‘Karnak’ and ‘Ihna Bitou al Autobis’ that tells the story of the tyranny practiced by the centers of power and the extended influence of the intelligence agencies during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era.
Duraid Laham also presented two important films called ‘A-Taqreer’ (The Report) and ‘Al-Hadoud’ (The Borders) that both highlight and criticize administrative corruption, chaos, favoritism and bureaucracy in a comical way that does not fail to convey the message.
Arab cinema has only presented political figures in films such as ‘Omar al Mukhtar’, ‘Nasser 56’ and ‘Ayam Al Sadat’ (Days of Sadat). These films had depicted historical images and views that are controversial and open to criticism. However, Arab events require more courage and cinematic presentation, for example, [the war of] 1967 and the related scandals are yet to be retold, the separation of Egypt and Syria also deserves to be looked at as well as figures such as Saddam Hussein, Amin al Husseini, Abdul Rahman Sewar al Thahab, King Abdulaziz and Sheikh Zayed.
The level of freedom in the Arab world and the ability of existing political regimes to “accept” opinions that differ to traditional, historical presentation and the stereotypical image presented in books and the media is the major challenge for the Arab film industry that should bring about the long-awaited and positive movement.