Mona Zaki has become the centre of attention in the past few days in Egyptian newspapers, TV talk shows, and social media since the release of the first Arabic-language film by the global leading streaming service Netflix, ‘Ashab Wala A’az’, on 20 January.
The directorial debut of Wissam Smayra, the 18th remake of the Italian hit feature ‘Perfect Strangers’ — starring Eyad Nassar, Nadine Labaki, Georges Khabbaz, Adel Karam, Fouad Yammine, and Diamand Abu Abboud — shocked some viewers, causing much controversy across different platforms.
Ashab Wala A’az features a gay character and discusses sexual topics explicitly, causing many conservatives in Egypt to bash the film in outrage, with many taking offence with a scene in which Zaki’s character takes off her underwear before leaving the house to meet her friends.
Pointing the finger at Netflix and Egyptian co-producer Mohamed Hefzi of Film Clinic, Egyptian TV anchor and long-time parliament member Mostafa Bakry has led the attacks against the film, taking the controversy into the House of Representatives and accusing the film’s creators of “being involved in a conspiracy that targets Egyptian and Arab values and moralities.”
“Defending creative freedom in a civil state is an essential pillar of Egyptian conscience that the syndicate will always protect,” said the syndicate’s statement, stressing its “keenness to preserve the Egyptian society’s values and tackling sensitive issues through art.”
While the political and social debates are still ongoing, the Arabic version of Perfect Strangers is currently available in 190 countries, with its story revolving around seven close friends who gather for dinner and decide to play a game where they all place their cell phones on the dinner table, agreeing to openly share every call, text, and voice message received.
Born in Cairo in 1976, the multi-awarded actress Mona Zaki is arguably the top actress of her generation, starring in tens of hugely successful works in TV, cinema, and theatre.