By Nayera Yasser
In the heart of downtown Cairo in one of the city’s oldest cinema theatres, the Odeon, Turkey’s award-winning documentary “Kismet” was played for the very first time in Egypt.
The film links parts of the former Ottoman country in an attempt to shed light on the deep relationship of love between women and Turkish soap operas. From “Gumus” to “Fatmagul” and “Magnificent Century”, the documentary studies the influence this kind of drama leaves on women in particular.
Since Egypt was once an Ottoman state, the film tackles the impact of both “Gumus” and “Fatmagul” on the local audience. According to the Egyptian viewers who participated in the film, “Gumus” which was translated into “Noor”, was their first Turkish series, and it only made them fall in love with the genre.
“When ‘Noor’ was broadcast, most of the Egyptian media was full of violence, war and injustice. ‘Noor’ arrived and brought romanticism; it arrived when Egyptians were thirsty for sagas like these,” said a viewer in the documentary.
“Noor” narrates a love story between a couple belonging to two different social classes. Throughout the series, Turkey is portrayed as a lavish community with spectacular villas and attractive people which by definition mesmerised a large sector of viewers.
Nonetheless, the true influence and severe obsession did not happen until an Arab network aired “Fatmagul”, which was translated into “Fatma”. The series discusses women rights and the taboo of harassment and rape, something that by nature touched several Egyptian activists.
Samira Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s most famous activists, shared her personal story with harassment. Ibrahim was the first to go public against the Egyptian military for undertakingvirginity tests on the protesters.
““Fatmagul” has the keys to Turkish society, we need that here as well. Someone must know how to enter our society and deliver the message,” said Ibrahim.
The documentary focuses on one main point, which is these soap-operas’ power to break taboos and encourage women to stand up for themselves and change their realities.
Alia Ayman, one of Zawya’s curators, first watched the film at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York, and felt the need to share this film with Egyptian society through Zawya.
“The film portrays Turkish women as liberated and in a possession, to help poor Egyptian women who are far behind with restrictions and taboos and in deep need of a saver,” said Ayman, sarcastically.
After the film ended, two anthropology researchers shared their thoughts on the film.
“Fatmagul who the directors tried to portrait as a person, who was raped and has a very conscious mind to head to court, but at the same time what made Fatmagul an acceptable character in Turkey was the fact that she was portrayed as a young, innocent woman that basically showed no reason to be raped,” said Ozlem Biner, a Turkish research associate in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge.
According to Biner, most of the characters seen in these soap operas are made of traditional clichés and stereotypes. This is something that Hakem Al-Rustom, an assistant professor of anthropology at the American University in Cairo (AUC) who focuses on Turkey in particular, confirmed.
“These soap operas are completely out of context. I have not seen someone who is dark skin in any of those soap operas! And this is something that is very important, because if you go to south east Turkey or even central Anatolia, you will find a lot of people who are dark skinned, but what we see in these operas are always upper class people with villas on the Bosphorus and European features,” said Al-Rustom.
While the local activists included in the film approved of Fatmagul’s power to encourage women to head to court, the writing team behind the series proudly announced that their series did at least touch the Turkish community. Several women’s rights associations contacted them during the series’ airing time, and even asked to be part of the final scene in court.
“When I first read the documentary’s name ‘How Turkish soap operas changed the world’, I expected something totally different. But now that I have seen the film, I do not really see how they have changed the world. Even the women who filed for divorce or head to court would have done the same thing sooner or later, with or without the soap operas,” said a lady from the audience.
“Kismet” is one of the documentaries that were selected by Zawya for their first Hybrid programme, which include several films from the same genre followed with related discussions between experts and the audience.