Faten Hamama (known as "The Lady of the Arabic Screen") has become an icon and the most important actress of Egyptian and Arabic cinema. She is also the most honored actress in the Middle East. Every decade of her life represents a new era of acting and witnessed the reshaping and progression of Egyptian cinema.
The progress in her different characters when she started as a child in 1938 until today parallels the progress that modern Egyptian women have made during the 20th century and their interaction with the public, culture or political life.
During the celebration of 100 years of Egyptian cinema on 1996, she was chosen as the country's most important actress, and 18 of her films were selected as among the best 150 made to that time. It was no surprise that in 2000 the Egyptian Organization of Critics and Writers named her the Star of the Century.
She was born in 1931 in Elmansoura, Egypt, the daughter of Ahmed Hamama, an employee of the Egyptian Ministry of Knowledge. Her legendary journey started as a secret statement between a six-year-old girl and her father after they watched a film in their neighborhood theater, at which leading actress and producer Asya Dagher was present.
Faten told her father that she felt the audience was applauding for her as the leading actress, and her father gave her a hug with a vision of helping his daughter to become a movie star. She won a contest for the most beautiful child in Egypt, and her dad sent her picture to director Mohammed Karim (a pioneer of Egyptian cinema).
Karim was looking for a child for his new film with Egyptian musician Mohamed Abdel Wahab. Faten auditioned for and got a role in this movie, Yom said (1940) ("A Happy Day"). She impressed the filmmakers so much during shooting that she was actually given more lines and scenes in the picture than were originally scripted for her.
Karim put her under contract, and four years later he gave her a role in a film with Mohamed Abdel Wahab again, Russassa fil kalb (1944) ("A Bullet in the Heart"). With her third movie with Karim, Dunia (1946), Faten showed filmmakers and audiences alike that she was was an actress ready for bigger roles.
Her father, along with her family, moved to Cairo to help her in her career. She also began studying her craft at the High Institute of Acting in 1946.With actor and director Yusuf Wahbi (known as the dean of Egyptian theater), Faten started a new stage of her career, in melodramas.
Yousef saw her talent in Karim's movies and was able to showcase it to even better advantage in his next film, Malak al rahma (1946) ("The Angel of Mercy"), in which she played his daughter. Although only 15 years old at the time, it was generally agreed that she stole the film.
This teenager was soon the talk of the Egyptian cinema, and her star hasn't set since then. She made more films with Wahby, such as Kursi el iteraf (1949) ("The Chair of Confession"), in which she played a lover of the cardinal's brother who mistakenly goes to jail for her father's murder.
She had another box-office hit with El yatimatain (1949) ("The Two Orphans"), followed by a successful comedy of the travails of a wife and her mother in law in Sitt el beit (1949) ("The Lady of the House").
She was the favorite of novelists because she could attract the best writers and directors to a project, and it wasn't soon before her name alone would pretty much guarantee success for whatever film she was in.
The 1950s brought new directors to Egyptian cinema and was the beginning of what was to become known as "The Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema". Faten appeared in a number of films by these new directors, such as Salah Abouseif's first realism picture, Laka yom ya zalem (1952) ("Your Day Will Come"), which was a box-office hit and was shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.
She appeared in such successful films as El tarik el masdud (1958) ("The Barred Road") and won a Best Actresss award for her performance in the romantic political movie La wakta lil hub (1963) ("No Time for Love").
She also supported director Youssef Chahine in his first movie, Baba Amin (1950), then again in his even more successful Siraa Fil-Wadi (1954), a realistic work that was also featured at the Cannes Film Festival (Youssef is on record as saying that Faten is his favorite actress and the best Egyptian actress of all time).
She also worked with director Kamal El-Shaikh in his first movie, which introduced the mystery genre to Egyptian cinema, El manzel rakam tletash (1952) ("House No. 13"), and again in Lan aataref (1962) ("I Will Not Confess").
Their film El-Lailah el-Akhirah (1963) ("Last Night") captured at least 10 awards in the 1965 national competition and was also shown at the Cannes festival. She excelled at comedy, as evidenced by her astonishing role in El-Ustazah Fatmah (1952) as lawyer Fatma.
She also worked closely with two other directors of this period, Izzuddin Dhulfeqar and Hinri Barakat, and made successful films with both. In fact, she married Zulficar in 1947 while shooting Abu Zeid el Hilali (1947).
He was known as the king of "romantic" movies and together they worked to further that vision, as in Khulud (1948) ("Immortality"). They formed a production company and made Moawad ma al hayat (1954) ("Appointment with Life"), which was voted movie of the year and received both critical and box-office success (it was this film that caused critics to name her the "Lady of the Arabic Screen", a title she has kept to this day).
Faten soon became the highest-paid actress in Egyptian cinema, and remained so until her final feature, Ard el ahlam (1993) ("Land of Dreams") and TV series, Wagh el qamar (2000) ("Face of the Moon").
More successful romantic roles with Ezzel Dine followed, such as Mawad ma al saada (1954) ("ppointment with Happiness"). It was during this period that Dine made his famous quote about Faten: "The distance between Faten and the next runner-up is like the distance between 1 and 10".
Although they were divorced in 1954, and Faten married Omar Sharif in 1955, she and Dine continued to make films together, many of which are considered classics of Egyptian romantic cinema, such as Bain el atlal (1959) ("Among the Ruins") and what many consider their masterpiece, Nahr el hub (1961) ("The River of Love"), their version of Leo Tolstoy's great story "Anna Karenina", opposite Omar Sharif, and the two became one of the classic romantic couples of Egyptian cinema, appearing again in Ayyamna el-Hilwah (1955) ("Our Best Days"), Sayedat el kasr (1958) ("Lady of the Castle"), La anam (1957) ("Sleepless") and Siraa Fil-Wadi (1954) ("Struggle in the Valley").
Sharif and Faten divorced on 1974. He made what became a famous statement about Faten, that he only married once because he only loved once, and that was Faten.Director Henry Barakat specialized in musical romantic movies, social commentary and women's rights in society.
During the making of Lahn al khouloud (1952) ("Immortal Song"), they developed a close professional bond, and Barakat used Faten to explore all his talent and all his visions. The success of the romantic musical Lahn al khouloud (1952) that became the movie of the year challenged both of them to make more successful musical romantic films, which they did with such pictures as Daiman maak (1954) ("With You Forever") and Mawad gharam (1956) ("Appointment with Love").
IT was with Barakatg that Fatan made her most famous and beloved picture, with her role as Ammna in Doa al karawan (1959) ("The Nightingale's Prayer"), which describes differences between revenge and culture through a romantic story.
It was nominated for Best Film at Berlin's International Film Festival and almost made it to the Oscars in the US. This film was chosen as one of best ten movies ever made in Egypt. After this picture Faten made several more films that promoted women's rights in society and created more cultural awareness, such as El bab el maftuh (1963) ("The Open Door"), for which she received the Best Actress award at the Jakarta (Indonesia) International Film Festival.
One year later they did it again in El haram (1965) ("The Sin"), which was shown at the Cannes festival that year and was chosen as one of best five movies ever made in Egypt. Faten and Barakat continued their journey together through decades for more outstanding roles as Kheit al rafeigh, -al (1971) ("The Thin Thread"), Afwah wa araneb (1977) ("Mouths and Rabbits"); Faten won Best Actress awards from two international festival for her role in this movie, and it was the highest-grossing Egyptian film ever made until that time.
Their last picture together was a remarkable hit, Leilet al quabd al Fatma (1984) ("The Night of Fatma's Arrest"). Their journey was crowned by a lifetime achievement award for their films together from the Montpellier International Film Festival on 1993.
Barakat's was quoted as saying, "If I could get Faten in my films, I will guarantee us the best picture".Faten left Egypt from 1966-1971 because she resisted political pressure that was applied to her.
She divided her time between Lebanon and London, England. During this period Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser asked some prominent critics and writers to try to persuade her to return to Egypt, saying that "Faten Hamama is a national treasure".
Her return to Egypt on 1971 breathed life back into Egyptian cinema. She insisted that her films reflect the values of the society through the family relationships. Her role in Emberatoriet meem (1972) ("Empire M") as a widow with six children and the struggles she endured to raise them made the film a success both critically and financially, and she earned a special award from an organization of Soviet Union women when the film was shown at the Moscow International Film Festival.
Her film Orid hallan (1975) ("Need a Solution") was not only a big hit but resulted in changes to Egyptian marriage and divorce laws. Faten won the Best Actress award at the Cairo International Film Festival and a Prize of Recognition at the Teheran (Iran) Film Festival.
She continued to make films that commented on society, such as Oghneyat elmoot (1973) ("The Song of Death"), Ualla azae lel sayedat (1979) ("No Condolences for Ladies"), Yom mor... yom helw (1988) ("Bitter Days, Sweet Days") and her last feature, Ard el ahlam (1993) ("Land of Dreams"), and her TV series, Dameer abla Hekmat (1991) ("The Consciousness of Teacher Hekmat") and Wagh el qamar (2000) ("The Face of the Moon"), which was shown in 23 countries in the Middle East.
Faten Hamama is the fourth Pyramid in Egyptian cinema, a legend in her platinum anniversary, the diamond that remained shining and kept its glowing over the decades on the silver screen.
The Lady of the Arab Screen