Egypt's Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in Egyptian Cinema

Mohamed, Haytham (2023) Egypt's Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in Egyptian Cinema. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis argues that the representation of gay men in Egyptian cinema not only has been historically problematic but rather regressed considerably over the years. While critically reflecting on twenty-three feature films as case studies, I demonstrate that depictions of gay characters in Egyptian cinema have overwhelmingly been limited to crude and cruel stereotypes. These stereotypes are often associated with mental illness, being sexually abused at a young age, being influenced heavily by ‘Western decadence’ or a result of lack of self-control or willpower.

Furthermore, the thesis argues that censorship plays an important but not a major part in depicting homosexual characters in a more realistic and less stereotypical manner. The filmmakers’ interpretations and cinematic ploys also play a crucial part in the way these characters are portrayed. In interviewing experts, as well as filmmakers of Egyptian cinema, my work reveals how the majority of filmmakers remain complicit with the expectations of Egyptian audiences and society. In addition, in adaptations, particularly films based on novels, filmmakers sometimes intentionally transform homosexual characters by portraying them as ‘deviant’.

As a creative-critical PhD, this thesis has two components. The written component of the thesis, which offers a critical reflection on the representation of gay characters in Egyptian cinema, is accompanied by a documentary I have written, directed and produced, entitled Egypt’s Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in Egyptian Cinema. While the documentary traces the depiction of gay characters between 1963 and 2018, the theoretical framework I provide in the written piece reflects my own creative practice. Although there is existing academic work on the representation of sexuality in Egyptian cinema, a creative-critical approach is a new approach in the field. This is where the original contribution of my thesis from a methodological point of view lies: in making a documentary about the topic I address the research questions of the thesis in visual form. The unique insights afforded thorough the documentary form are complemented by my review of the trope of homosexuality in broader Arabic cultural contexts and the ethnographic value of the interviews I have conducted in the process of the film’s making.

Chapter One looks at links between representations of homosexuality in Egyptian literature and cinema and the effects of Egyptian censorship structures. Chapter Two looks at the history of the Egyptian film industry, its alignment with state ideology and its depiction of minorities. Chapter Three considers state concerns about the ‘image of Egypt’ and illustrates through case studies how production design (mise-en-scène) and authorship (cinema d’auteur) have shaped depictions of gay characters on screen. Chapter Four analyses the process of making my documentary and the knowledge generated during this process. These analyses demonstrate the ways in which authorship and its relation to specific directors play a major part in showing gay characters realistically. It shows that state censorship can be seen collectively as an important element that helped shape the representation of gay characters, but there are other elements also involved in the construction of these characters.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2023 14:13
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 14:13

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