In the Shadow of a Man
Based on an old Egyptian proverb that exemplifies the deep-rooted patriarchal bias prevalent throughout the country, In the Shadow of a Man is a brief yet intimate and inspiring documentary about the issues that continue to face the women of Egypt. Interestingly, director Hanan Abdalla doesn’t set out to explore or explain the cause of the inequality, but rather looks at the experiences of Egyptian women as told in their own words.
The film focuses on four women in particular: Wafaa, Suzanne, Shahinda and Badreya. Each has different experiences, viewpoints and stories to tell about her individual opposition to and fight against this oldest of inequalities. Even though the film is comprised of conversations subsequent to the revolution of 2011 (with footage from the rebellion throughout), the resistance tales they offer begin as more of a domicile defiance.
The oppressions they encounter are unfortunately predictable: we hear stories about the trouble of divorce, societal expectations, pressures of marriage and the serious struggles of gaining employment. However, their reactions to these issues are remarkable.
Many of the stories put forth are, understandably, incredibly intimate and shocking. The apogee of accounts is proffered by the spry Wafaa, eldest of the quartet, who admits that on her wedding night she was held down by two women, to allow her husband to “check her honour” by validating her virginity. An attempted procedure, we’re informed by a smiling Wafaa, that earned him a “kick in the face”.
Further to its benefit, the film is deliberately full of seemingly contradictory viewpoints, often from the same people. One early scene sees two liberal women proffer progressive ideals, but they do so while sharing jokes about being married to the same man and wearing niqabs.
As candid as the women are about their struggle for emancipation, the most impressive aspect of In the Shadow of a Man is undoubtedly Abdalla herself. The lack of intrusion from her is notable. There is no voiceover and no onscreen expositional text, save for an initial name and date to identify the speaker and location. Instead, Abdalla allows the women to reaffirm the film’s message: you cannot separate a woman’s needs from society.
In the Shadow of a Man was part of a series of events highlighting cutting edge political cinema at the Frontline Club. Brotherhood & Courage – The Men of Washm Station will be screened on 30th September 2013 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with the director. For further information, visit here.
Watch the trailer for In the Shadow of a Man here: