678: A Film to Appreciate

Egypt, like the rest of the Middle East, has been suffering for a long time from street harassment. Naturally, different Egyptian intellects have been trying to emphasize the problem and highlight what can be the start of solving it. Mohamed Diab, a young Egyptian writer, wrote and directed the movie “678,” which focuses on this very dangerous phenomenon. You can see a trailer (in Arabic) here.

“678” is the story of three very different Egyptian women who all experience street harassment. Seba (Nelly Karim) is a very rich jewelry designer, who comes from a highly powerful family and is married to a successful gynecologist. Nelly (Nahed Elsebae’y) works in telesales by day and is an opinionated standup comedy performer at night. And Faiza (Bushra), the poor wife and mother of two who works as a government clerk and who has been constantly assaulted from behind on buses. For her role as Faiza, Bushra won the award for best female actor in a lead role in the Dubai Film Festival.

Other than the harassment, what these three women have in common is that the three of them refused this and took action. Seba started a self defense course for other women, Nelly filed a lawsuit against her attacker, and Faiza was the most aggressive, as she held a small knife in her purse, and used it to attack men who aggressively approached her.

In the movie, all three women had another thing in common: they were all empowered with their spirits and pride. What I was  actually hoping for is to also have a look on those women who don’t even dare being offended inside when they are harassed. Women who were never even given the option; no one told them their bodies are sacred and no one can touch them without their approval. They were in houses where they were objectified over and over, grew up in a community that regularly humiliates them, and marry men who know nothing about consent. In this culture, the word “consent” is science fiction. And these women need to be told that they have the right to chose who touches them and when.

These three women faced the detective, played by Maged Alkidawany, during the police investigations. Alkidawany’s character changed from a patriarchal bully (when he was sure that the three of them are ganging up on men, he arrested, threatened, and humiliated them) to an encouraging presence. Alkidawany also received an award at the DIFF.

This movie is on the short list of Egyptian movies with lead female roles wearing the hijab. Still, a woman who wears the hijab in Egyptian cinema is a poor crushed woman with dull eyes and no glamour. I don’t know why Egyptian moviemakers still can’t make female roles of just normal women who are wearing the hijab. Just normal, nothing special, women like my friends, my colleagues, and me!

The film used the intentional camera technique “shaky cam,” which was supposed to add extra reality and suspense. All it added for me a headache. The whole movie came out as a news video report more than a dramatic series of events.

But the movie was very well written. Some lines were so straight to the point that I wondered how a man was able to write such a very honest and insightful movie about women. However, I didn’t appreciate the writer’s assumption that men who harass women are unmarried and deprived. As an Egyptian woman, I can tell you that most of those who harass me are married men.

The movie received several positive reviews. There were also some lawsuits filed on the grounds that such a movie hurts Egypt’s reputation. Does staying silent mean the problem doesn’t exist? Or is the only thing we really care about our image, which is damaged anyway because of this sexual harassment problem. Because of Egypt’s reputation for rampant sexual harassment, women from all over the world are being warned about Egyptian men, tourism is affected, and yet you’re are worried about this movie?

As an Egyptian woman, I thank those involved with 678 for their effort, because I know how hard it must have been for them to fight the commercial atmosphere and take the financial and career risk to make this movie, which only proves how they really believe in the cause. This movie is an important one, not just for Egyptian cinema, but for Egyptian women.

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