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"Goddess of the Screen" Promotes Women’s Issues, but Creates Fundamentalist Backlash


Known as the "Goddess of the Screen," Youssra is one of Egypt's most famous actresses. But her choice of roles has made her controversial with conservative Muslims. Nazzy Beglari of VOA's Persian Service recently met with her and produced this story, which is narrated by Amy Katz.

Youssra started her career as an actress at the age of 14 -- despite the objections of her family. She has now starred in more than 80 films and has appeared on the cover of many magazines in the Arab world. But fundamentalists want her to abandon her career because she plays sexy, controversial parts. With Muslim conservatism on the rise in Egypt, the term "clean cinema" is now common.

" ‘Clean cinema’ is where they don't kiss each other,” she explains. “I don't believe this is (the) clean cinema, because you can be veiled, you can be very conservative and you have a sick mind. This is something that has nothing to do with Islam."

Currently, Youssra is rehearsing for her new film, "Shall We Dance?" It is her fifth collaboration with the only female director in Egypt, Inas Deghridi, who is known for making controversial films dealing with taboo subjects. Deghridi has suffered the consequences -- being threatened by fundamentalists several times.

It has been even worse for Youssra -- who was actually attacked in her Cairo apartment. But she says that is not going to stop her. "I believe in what I do, I believe in what say, I believe in what I am."

Youssra chooses parts that tackle social and women's issues in the Muslim world. Her new role in "Shall We Dance?" is an example. In it she plays a lawyer with a conservative husband, who finds her freedom in underground dance classes. Deghridi, the director of this film, says Youssra is a great actress because she is beautiful and can handle such challenging roles.