Egyptian actors in Hollywood films: Why Amr Waked is on top of that list right now!

Published September 29th, 2014 - 05:19 GMT

Not many Egyptian actors and filmmakers have tried their luck in the international arena. The list is quite short and efforts remain individual for actors such as Amr Waked, Khaled Abdalla, Khaled El-Nabawy, Khaled Aboul Naga, or even the young actor Mohamed Karim.

Participation in the American cinema is very limited because of the lack of real initiatives and official well-structured bodies that would help the Egyptian film industry to make its presence on the international scene. Such procedures would subsequently maximise the cultural and economic benefits of this once thriving industry.

"In the 1950s and 60s, despite the limited means of the time, the Egyptian government had a clear strategy which gave the Egyptian cinema an important position in the world. Behind those strategies were important names, such as economist Talaat Harb, actress and producer Assia Dagher and actor Omar Sharif," explains Mustafa Darwish, critic and former president of the Egypt Censorship Authority.

"Over the years, however, this vision has lost its lustre. Beginning in the 1990s, focus was directed to commercial cinema for different reasons reflecting the specific mindset of the audience and the certain logic of the market."

It is since this moment that the major objective adopted by most of the Egyptian producers was "to please distributors in the Gulf at all costs. This, however, meant paying little attention to Western markets or promoting the new stars to them. The director Youssef Chahine and a few of his assistants were the only ones who had their eyes directed towards the West," Darwish continues.

After the long years of "cinematic hibernation" and an almost total absence on the global scale, a few young actors and filmmakers hope to breakthrough to the international film arena. Khaled Abdallah, Egyptian-British actor, managed to shed light on the Egyptian younger generation through his roles in international films, including United 93 (2006), The Kite Runner (2007), Green Zone (2010) and The Square (2013), among others.

In his turn, Amr Waked made his international entry with Syriana (2005), House of Saddam (2008), an Italian production Il padre e lo straniero (The Father and the Stranger, 2010), British romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012) and French production Colt 45 (2014).

Equally there were other Egyptian artists appearing in foreign movies. Khaled El-Nabawy took roles in films such as Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Fair Game (2010) and more recently in the American drama The Citizen (2013).

On the other hand, among Khaled Abol Naga's international commitments is role of the protagonist in the Canadian thriller Civic Duty (2006). Together with Mohamed HefzyAbol Naga hoped to launch Pacha Pictures, an independent distribution company aiming at supporting and strengthening the presence of the Egyptian cinema and filmmakers across Europe and the United States, including distribution of the Arab films around the world. However this ambitious project did not happen.

"Though launch of Pacha Pictures was announced during the 64th Cannes Film Festival (2011), the company did not see the light. This was due to the lack of funding and enthusiasm. The partisans behind the initiative did not give it the deserved time and as result it closed before it had even taken off, exactly one year after the idea's inception," Mohamed Hefzy explains.

He continues: "We, the young filmmakers, always have our eyes directed towards the international scene, especially with our films participating in the international festivals. But the spirit of star-making is lacking, whether it is applied to the state institutions or to the so-called independent producers. This is how all is left to the individual trials and luck."

Until the situation changes, in the eyes of the Western audience, the Egyptian cinema means is equivalent with Youssef Chahine and Omar Sharif.

Lucy, the new film by Luc Besson, released in July 2014 gives full justice to the director's name. The film encapsulates all the cinematic procedures that characterise Besson's work into a science fiction movie mixed with a new approach to action material. The balance of this movie lies in – among other things – in the use of new faces, even if they are not the best actors for their roles.

This story is about Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a young American student living in Taiwan, who gets kidnapped by the Korean mafia and used as a mule to smuggle a new drug, CPH4, to Europe. But as the bag cracks suddenly inside her stomach, the substance reaches her brain, giving her a super power. Fusing the old myth with Einstein's theory, according to which humans only use 10 percent of their brain capacity, the movie shows how the drug absorbed by Lucy allows her to increase gradually and unconsciously the ability of the brain's usage up to one hundred percent.

In the film credits, the name of the Egyptian actor Amr Waked who plays Pierre Del Rio, appears right after the main trio: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Min-sik Choi. Since the film's release, much ink has been spilled in Egypt over Waked's role in Besson's movie produced by Universal Studios.

Pierre Del Rio – a French police officer assigned to rescue Lucy, who accompanies her during the pursuits with traffickers until the end of the movie – is a rather clichéd character, and Waked's role remains minimal and relatively dull. He makes his first appearance on screen after the intermission, around 50 minutes after the film's beginning. Having a classical look and offering pretty bland reactions with a rather undesirable humour, he pronounces dozen of very short sentences in English and French.

For Waked, Lucy is probably a good chance to break into the international level, though keeping in mind his qualities as an actor, this entry is done through a small role. Looking at Scarlett Johansson, who is so alive, touching and convincing as she gets completely into her character, or Morgan Freeman's strong presence, Waked could have portrayed the police officer differently.


© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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