Think of the last Ramadan TV series you binge-watched on; was it “A girl named Zat”, “Segn El Nessa” or “Taht El Saytara”?
What all these TV series have in common, is the authenticity & focus on portraying real Egyptian women struggles. These two elements are one of the many reasons why Mariam Naoum’s work has been a hit each Ramadan & there is no doubt that this year, Zay El Shams was the talk of social media & a hit.
Naoum’s stories have always stood out as female-driven. She succeeds in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats enjoying the depth of the story, but also sends important messages about topics that are important to Egyptian society & Egyptian women.
We chatted with the one & only Naoum, to know more about her thoughts on the female lead characters in Zay El Shams, how we can keep the momentum with non-stereotypical or objectified portrayal of women in the media.
“There are generations that believe women are to be blamed for a man’s cheating”
- You have been engaging viewers every Ramadan with a series that has bad-ass female lead characters…Zay El Shams, is a TV series that portrayed great acting on the cast’s side & great writing on your side. As a feminist filmmaker what was the story you were trying to tell as a general message?
I wanted to focus on the details of the characters & contextualize the story to Egyptian society’s context. What was really an underline for me was that what was acceptable in the European version is not acceptable in our society.
For example, the sister’s actions was not originally the focus of the story, but when portrayed in our community, we needed to shed led on the complexity of the character (Farida). Farida seems different, so she is considered “a woman with a bad reputation” by many. I wanted to work on portraying how we judge people from the outside & I wanted to open a discussion with people who watch about this.
- Do you think if Farida’s actions were coming from a man, would they have been acceptable?
It would have been normal if Farida was man, this is actually represented in how some people reacted to Omar’s character when he cheated & had so many casual relationships.
- The master scene, when Noor discovers Farida her sister & Omar her fiancée are cheating on her received great attention on social media, Noor’s reaction was full of mixed emotions & she ended up blaming herself & apologizing to Omar. We see this happen in real life, why do you think this happens?
This actually happens a lot, blaming oneself is very common. It’s a defense mechanism & they are usually trying to comprehend what happened. Society will always blame the more vulnerable party, which in this case is the woman. There are so many generations that were raised to believe that women are to be blamed for a man’s cheating.
- Do you think positive media examples that show how women are not to blamed for cheating helps?
Yes, but still more needs to be done. Some segments in our society started to think this way,others don’t.
If a woman who lives in a patriarchal society rebels against something like this, she would face so many challenges. This is what happens when a woman starts to say it is not my fault, my husband is the cheater.
- Nour & Omar’s relationship is toxic, what message were you trying to tell? Were you trying to alarm fellow women of this relationship?
I start with the character’s traits & complexity which is inspired by reality. This kind of relationship is very common in or society & other societies. Some people might resist this after a year; others like Nour will realize this in 13 years.
Nour’s character is like a yo-yo; she leaves him & then goes back to him. Omar was controlling her it’s like he tied her up.
- Before starting script writing is there anything you saw in films or movies that inspired you to be a part of this industry & be part of the change?
I have never been asked this question, she laughs. I have always really liked the drama of social reality. I always try to understand the complexity of the relationships of people. I focus on details of everything I see on the street. It was built in, I don’t control it or do it intentionally, I observe things & I want to work & write on societal issues at large.
When you are writing certain scenes, do you & the crew team foresee social media engagement?
I expected this with the third episode & the cheating scene. I didn’t expect success of the entire series. Sometimes when I am writing something, I get inspired & very moved ,so I can tell that people will connect with it too. If the scene made my cry, then I foresee that after the effects, music & all of this it will be even better.
I also write some scenes with El Warsha. In Zay el shams we were a big group & we divided characters’ among ourselves to connect & develop the character even more. El Warsha’s Zay El Shams talented team of writers are: Naglaa El Hadeeny, Scriptwriter. Dialogue writers: Dina Negm, Samar AbdelNasser, Magdy Amin, Mohamed Hesham Ebya. Character Development: Sara Lotfy & General Supervision over writing: Mariam Naoum.
- Women are finally taking the lead in non-objectified roles in some Egyptian drama & film… How do you think we should keep the momentum of this portrayal?
I think that any topic that portrays women, must be handled in an authentic, serious manner, not a typical story & that’s it. If this happened I think we would be able to reach this goal. The portrayal shows the reality of the situation, without adding messages or twisting reality. Authenticity to the characters & the story-line is the key!