Faten Hamama (Arabic: فاتن حمامة) (born 27 May 1931) is an Egyptian producer and an acclaimed actress of film, television, and theatre. She was regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from melodramas to historical films and occasional comedies, though her chief successes were romantic dramas. Noted for her willingness to play serious characters, she has also acted in some controversial films in the history of Egyptian cinema.
Hamama made her screen debut in 1939, when she was only nine years old. Her earliest roles were minor, but her activity and gradual success helped to establish her as a distinguished Egyptian actress. Eventually, and after many successful performances, she was able to achieve stardom. Revered as an icon in Egyptian and Middle Eastern cinema, Hamama has substantially helped in improving the cinema industry in Egypt and emphasizing the importance of women in cinema and Egyptian society.
After a seven-year hiatus from acting, Hamama returned in 2000 in what was a much anticipated television miniseries, Wajh al-Qamar (وجه القمر, Face of the Moon). She has not acted since then. In 2000, Hamama was chosen as Star of the Century by the Egyptian Writers and Critics organization. In 2007, eight of the films she starred in were included in the top 100 films in the history of Egyptian cinema by the cinema committee of the Supreme Council of Culture in Cairo.
Early life and career
Faten Hamama was born to a Muslim lower middle class family in Mansoura, Egypt (according to her birth certificate), but she claims she was born in Cairo, in the Abdeen quarter. Her father, Ahmed Hamama, worked as a clerk in the Egyptian Ministry of Education and her mother was a housewife. She has an older brother, Muneer, a younger sister, Layla, and a younger brother, Mazhar. Her aspiration for acting arose at an early age. Hamama says she was influenced by Assia Dagher as a child. When she was six years old, her father took her to the theater to see an Assia Dagher film; when the audience clapped for Assia, she told her father she felt they were clapping for her.
When she won a children's beauty pageant in Egypt, her father sent her picture to the director Mohammed Karim who was looking for a young female child to play the role of a small girl with the famous actor and musician Mohamed Abdel Wahab in the film Yawm Said (يوم سعيد, Happy Day, 1939). After an audition, Abdel Wahab decided she was the one he was looking for. After her role in the film, people called her "Egypt's own Shirley Temple". The director liked her acting and was impressed with her so much that he signed a contract with her father. Four years later, she was chosen by Kareem for another role with Abdel Wahab in the film Rossassa Fel Qalb (رصاصة في القلب, Bullet in the Heart, 1944) and in another film two years later, Dunya (دنيا, Universe, 1946). After her success, Hamama moved with her parents to Cairo and started her study in the High Institute of Acting in 1946.
Youssef Wahbi, a famous Egyptian director and actor, realized the young actress's talent so he offered her a lead role in the 1946 film Malak al-Rahma (ملاك الرحمة, Angel of Mercy). The film attracted widespread media attention, and Hamama, who was only 15 at the time, became famous for her melodramatic role. In 1949, Hamama had roles in 3 films with Wahbi. Kursi Al-I'etraf (كرسي الاعتراف, Chair of Confession), Al-Yateematain (اليتيمتين, The Two Orphans), and Sït Al-Bayt (ست البيت, Lady of the House) were all successful films.
The 1950s were the beginning of the golden age of the Egyptian cinema industry and Hamama was a big part of it. In 1952 she starred in the film Lak Yawm Ya Zalem (لك يوم يا ظالم, Your Day will Come) which was nominated in the Cannes Film Festival for the Prix International award. She also played lead roles in Yousef Shaheen's Baba Ameen (بابا أمين, Ameen, my Father, 1950) and Sira' Fi Al-Wadi (صراع في الوادي, Struggle in the Valley, 1954) which was a strong nominee in the 1954 Cannes Film Festival for the Prix International award. Hamama is also known for playing the lead role in the first Egyptian mystery film Manzel Raqam 13 (منزل رقم 13, House Number 13). In 1963, she received an award for her role in the political film La Waqt Lel Hob (لا وقت للحب, No Time for Love). Hamama was also able to make it to Hollywood; in 1963 she had a role in the crime film, Cairo.
In 1947, Hamama married the actor and director Ezzel Dine Zulficar while filming the Abu Zayd al-Hilali (أبو زيد الهلالي) film. They started a production company which produced the film Maw'ed Ma' Al-Hayat (موعد مع الحياة, Date with Life) in which she starred. This particular film earned her the title of the "lady of the Arabic screen". She divorced al-Faqqar in 1954 and a year later, she married the famous actor Omar Sharif. In spite of that, Hamama still acted in films of his direction.
In a Youssef Chahine film, Struggle in the Valley, Hamama refused to have the Egyptian actor Shukry Sarhan as a co-star, and Chahine offered Omar Sharif the role. Omar had just graduated from college then and was working with his father; Hamama accepted him as her co-star. Hamama had never accepted to act any scene involving a kiss in her career, but she shockingly accepted to do so in this film. The two fell in love and Omar Sharif converted to Islam and married her. This marriage started a new era of Hamama's career as the couple did many of their films together. Sharif and Hamama were the romantic leads of Ayyamna Al-Holwa (أيامنا الحلوة, Our Sweet Days), Ardh Al-Salam (أرض السلام, Land of Peace), La Anam (لا أنام, Sleepless), and Sayyidat Al-Qasr (سيدة القصر, The Lady of the Palace). Their last film together, before their divorce, was Nahr Al-Hob (نهر الحب, The River of Love) in 1960.
Controversy in the late 1960s
Hamama left Egypt from 1966 to 1971 because she was being continuously disturbed by Egyptian Intelligence. Initially, Hamama had been a supporter of the 1952 Revolution, but later became an opponent of the Free Officers and their oppressive regime. She said they were "asking her to cooperate" but she apologized and refused. As a consequence, she was forbidden to travel or participate in festivals. She was only able to leave Egypt after many controversial disputes. She lived in Beirut and London during this period.
While she was away, then President Gamal Abdel Nasser asked famous writers, journalists and friends to try to convince her to return to Egypt. He called her a "national treasure" and had even awarded her an honorary decoration in 1965. However, Hamama didn't return until 1971 after Abdel Nasser had passed away. Thereafter, she played critical roles conveying messages of democracy. She often criticized the laws in Egypt in her films. In the 1972 film Imbarotiriyat Meem (إمبراطورية ميم, The Empire of M), Hamama presented a prodemocratic point of view and received an award from the Soviet Union of Women in the Moscow International Festival. Her most significant film was Oridu Hallan (أريد حلاً, I Need a Solution). In this film, she criticized the laws governing marriage and divorce in Egypt. After the film, the Egyptian government abrogated a law that forbid wives from divorcing their husbands, therefore allowing khul'.
As Hamama became older, her acting roles declined and she made fewer films compared to earlier in her career, but nevertheless her films were successful. She also made her first TV appearances in her late career. She starred in the TV mini-series Dameer Ablah Hikmat (ضمير أبلة حكمت, Mrs. Hikmat's Conscience) and was quite successful in her first TV performance.
After 1993, Hamama's career suddenly came to a halt. It was not until 2000 that she returned in the successful TV mini-series Wajh ِِal-Qamar which was broadcast on 23 TV channels in the Middle East. In this mini-series, Hamama portrayed and criticized many problems in Egyptian and Middle Eastern society. Despite some criticisms, the mini-series received much praise and acclaim. Hamama was awarded the Egyptian Best TV Actor of the Year and the mini-series won the Best TV Series Award in the Egyptian Radio and Television Festival. Hamama entered history as the highest paid actress in an Egyptian TV mini-series until 2006. Rumors have been circulating that Hamama will return in a new TV mini-series called Wazeera 'ala al-Ma'ash (وزيرة على المعاش, A Retired Minister) in 2007, probably in Ramadan.
Accomplishments in Egyptian cinema
When Hamama started her acting career women were commonly displayed in Egyptian films as unrealistic and bourgeois, spending most of their time chasing (or being chased by) men. It was also customary for an actress to be shown as a sex object. In the beginnings of Egyptian cinema, the casting of female characters was limited to famous singers, dancers or stage actresses. But Faten Hamama was neither a singer nor a dancer, and she had little experience on stage. In spite of that, she was able to magnetize film directors and producers as well as her audiences, which is why she was successful in many of her films.
Before the 1950s, Hamama had leading roles in 30 films, in which she often played the role of a weak, empathetic, poor girl. After the 1950s, Hamama was in search of her real identity and was trying to establish herself as a distinct figure. During this period, her choice of material and roles was somewhat limited. However, film producers soon capitalised on her popularity with audiences in local and Middle Eastern markets and she began to play realistic, strong women, such as in Sira' Fi Al-Wadi (صراع في الوادي , Struggle in the Valley, 1954) where she portrayed a rich man's daughter who, contrary to stereotype, was a realistic woman who helped and supported the poor. In the 1952 film Miss Fatmah (الأستاذة فاطمة), Hamama starred as a law student who believed women were as important as men in society.
In Imbratoriyat Meem (امبراطورية ميم , The Empire of M), she played the role of a widow who takes care of her large family and suffers hardship. These films helped in the portrayal of Egyptian women's problems in a society resistant to modernity. Her most influential film was Oridu Hallan (أريد حلا , I Need a Solution) which criticized the laws of marriage and divorce in Egypt. A law in Egypt that forbade Khul' ( خلع ) — a divorce initiated by the wife — was annulled immediately afterwards.
Most critics agree that Hamama's most challenging role was in the 1959 film Dua'e Al-Karawan (دعاء الكروان , The Nightingale's Prayer), which was chosen as one of the best Egyptian film productions. It is based on the novel by the same name by the prominent Egyptian writer Taha Hussein. In this film, Hamama played the role of Amnah, a young woman who seeks revenge from her uncle for the honour killing of her sister. After this film, Hamama carefully picked her roles. In 1960, she starred in the film Nahr Hob (نهر حب, Love River) which was based on Leo Tolstoy's well known novel Anna Karenina and in 1961, she played the lead role in the film La Tutf'e Al-Shams (لا تطفئ الشمس, Don't Turn Off the Sun) based on the novel by Ihsan Abdel Quddous.
Though Hamama has lived most of her life in Egypt, she was forced to live in London and Lebanon for several years due to problems in the late 1960s in Egypt.
She admired the director Ezzel Dine Zulficar, and while filming Abu Zayd al-Hilali (أبو زيد الهلالى) in 1947, which he directed, the two fell in love and got married. Their marriage lasted for seven years: they divorced in 1954. Hamama has said that her love for Zulficar was little more than a student's admiration and love for a teacher. The two remained friends, and Hamama even starred in his films after the divorce. They have one daughter, Nadia Zulficar.
In 1954, Hamama chose Omar Sharif to co-star with her in a film. In this film, she uncharacteristically agreed to a romantic scene involving a kiss. During the filming, they fell in love. Sharif converted to Islam and married her. The couple co-starred in many films, their romantic relationship clearly evident on screen. However, after almost 20 years, they divorced in 1974. They have one son, Tarek Sharif.
Hamama later married Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab Mahmoud, a successful doctor in Egypt. Having learned from experience, this time Hamama decided to keep her personal life private. She rarely appears with him publicly or mentions him in interviews. They currently reside in Cairo.
Throughout Hamama's career, she has won many awards for her acting roles
- First prize of acting for the movie Ana al-Madi (I'm the Past) (1951)
- First prize of acting and best Egyptian movie presented in Beirout for Irham Dmoo'i (Have Mercy) (1954)
- Maw'ed Maa al-Sa'ada (Appointment with Happiness) receives Prize of acting from the Egyptian Catholic Center for Cinema (1954)
- Irham Dmoo'i receives first Prize of acting from Ministry of Guidance for movies that covered season 1954-1955 (1955)
- Al-Tareeq al-Masdood (Dead end) & Hatta Naltaqi(Until we meet) receive prizes of acting from the Egyptian Catholic Center for Cinema (1958)
- Prize of acting on her role in the movie Bain al-Atlal (Among the Ruins) (1959)
- Doaa al-Karawan (The Nightgale's Prayer) receives the Prize of Acting from Ministry of Guidance (1961)
- Doaa al-Karawan received First Pize of acting from the National State award that covered movies from seasons 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 (1963)
- Best actress award from the Jakarta Film Festival on her role in Albab aL-Maftouh (The Open Door) (1963)
- First Prize of acting from the National State award for the movie Al Leila Al Akhira (The Last Night) (1965)
- Al-Kheit al-Rafee (The Thin Thread) received the Special Award in the first Tehran International Film Festival (1972)
- Special award from the Moscow International Film Festival(1973)
- A Diploma of honor and the Diploma of recognition for her role and the idea for Oreedo Hallan (I Need a Solution) in the third Tehran International Film Festival (1974)
- The Organization of Film Critics and Writers' Prize of Recognition for her role in Oreedo Hallan (1975)
- The Prize of Excellence in the Festival of Egyptian Films for her role in Oreedo Hallan (1976)
- Best Actress award from the Tehran International Film festival on her role for Afwah Wa Araneb (Mouths and Rabbits) (1977)
- Best actress award from the Second Cairo International Film Festival, (Golden Nefertiti Award) for her role in Afwah Wa Araneb (1977)
- Special Recognition award from President Anwar Al Sadat for her role inAfwah Wa Araneb (1977)
- USSR Cinema Prize in Moscow (1983)
- Lebanese Golden Order of Merit Prize for her role in the movie Leilet Al Qabd Ala Fatma (The Night of Fatma's Arrest) (1984)
- Prize of Recognition and Life Achievement Award from the Organization of Cinematic Art for her role in the movie Leilet Al Qabd Ala Fatma (1984)
- Best Actress award from Carthage International Film Festival, Tunisia for her role inYawm Mor.. Yawm Helo (Bitter Days.. Nice Days) (1988)
- Best actress award from the Organization of Film for her role inYawm Mor.. Yawm Helo (1989)
- Best Artistic Achievement award from the Cairo International Festival (1991)
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montpelier Mediterranean Film Festival (1993)
- Best actress award from the Egyptian Catholic Center during its celebration for her role in Ard al-Ahlam (Land of Dreams) (1994)
- Best Actress award from Cairo International Festival for her contribution to the Egyptian Cinema where 18 of her films were selected amongst the best 150 movies ever made until 1996 during the celebration of a 100 years of cinema (1996)
2000 and later
- The Honorary Award from The Radio and Television Festival for her role in Wajh al-Kamar (2001)
- The Prize and award of the First Arabic Women presented by Nazik Hariri and Bahia Hariri (2001)
- Prize of recognition from first Sala international film festival, Morocco, for her contribution to women's issues through her artistic career (2004)
- Sitt Elbait (Lady of the House) presented in Cannes International Film Festival (1949)
- Ebn Elnile (Son of the Nile) presented in Venice International Film Festival (1951)
- Ebn Elnile nominated in Cannes International Film Festival for the Prix International award (1952)
- Lak youm Ya Zalem (Your Day will Come) selected in Berlin International Film Festival to be part of main competition (1953)
- Cannes International Film Festival selects the movie Serai Fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley), to be part of main competition for the Prix International award (1954)
- Berlin International Film Festival selects the movie Doaa al-Karawan (The Nightgale's Prayer), to be part of main competition (1960)
- Karlovy Vary International Film Festival selects the movie La Totf'e al-Shams (Don't Turn the Sun Off), to be part of main competition (1962)
- Cannes International Film Festival selects the movie Al Leila Al Akhira (The Last Night), to be part of main competition for the Prix International award (1964)
- Cannes International Film Festival selects the movie Al Haram (The Sin) to be part of main competition for the Prix International award (1965)
Hamama was also honored on several occasions:
- Honored by the Decoration of Creativity of first degree from prime minister, Prince Khaled Shehab, Lebanon (1953)
- A Guest of Honor in Moscow International Film Festival. In that event she also had an interview with Yuri Gagarin (first human in space) for the Egyptian Radio (1961)
- Selected as Jury Member for the Berlin International Film Festival (1964)
- Honored by the Decoration of Republic of first degree for Art from president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1965)
- Honored by the Decoration of State of the first order from President Mohamed Anwar Sadat during first Art festival (1976)
- Jury Member for Carthage International Film Festival (1978)
- Jury Member for Cairo International Film Festival (1991)
- Selected as the President of Juries for the first Paris Biennale of Arab Cinema (1992)
- Honorary award from the Egyptian National Festival for Cinema for her long distinguished cinematic career (1995)
- Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz selects Faten Hamama as an Honorary advisory member in the organization of Children development (1999)
- PhD from the American University in Cairo (1999)
2000 and later
- Lifetime achievement award as the Star of the Century in Egyptian cinema at the Alexandria International Film Festival (2001)
- Honored by the Decoration of "Al-Arz" (Lebanese Cedar) from Lebanese President Émile Lahoud (2001)
- Honored by the Decoration of Competence and Creation from King Mohamed El Hassan the Sixth of Morocco (2001)
|Year||International Title||Arabic Title||Role|
|1939||Happy Day||Yawm Said, يوم سعيد||Aneesa|
|1944||Bullet in the Heart||Rossassa Fel Qalb, رصاصة في القلب||Najwah|
|1946||Angel of Mercy||Malak al-Rahma, ملاك الرحمة||Thoraya|
|1947||Abu Zayd al-Hilali||Abu Zayd al-Hilali, أبو زيد الهلالي||Caliph's daughter|
|1948||The Small Millionaire||Al-Millionairah al-Saghirah, المليونيرة الصغيرة||Pilot's girlfriend|
|Immortality||Khulood, خلود||Laila / Amal|
|The Two Orphans||Al-Yateematain, اليتيمتين||Ne`mat|
|Towards Glory||Nahwa al-Majd, نحو المجد||Suhair|
|1949||Chair of Confession||Kursi al-I`tiraf, كرسي الاعتراف||Phileberta|
|Lady of the House||Sitt al-Bayt, ست البيت||Elham|
|Every House Has a Man||Kul Bayt Lahu Rajel, كلّ بيت له راجل||Faten|
|1951||Son of the Nile||Ibn al-Nile, ابن النيل||Zebaida|
|Your Day Will Come||Lak Yawm Ya Zalem, لك يوم يا ظالم||Ne`mat|
|I'm The Past||Ana al-Madi, أنا الماضي||Elham's daughter|
|1952||House Number 13||Al-Manzel Raqam 13, المنزل رقم 13||Nadia|
|Immortal Song||Lahn al-Kholood, لحن الخلود||Wafa'|
|Miss Fatimah||Al-Ustazah Fatimah, الأستاذة فاطمة||Fatimah|
|Date with Life||Maw`ed Ma` al-Hayat, موعد مع الحياة||Amal|
|1954||Pity My Tears||Irham Dmoo`i, ارحم دموعي||Amal|
|Traces in the Sand||Athar Fi al-Rimal, أثار في الرمال||Ragia|
|The Unjust Angel||Al-Malak al-Zalem, الملاك الظالم||Nadia|
|Always with You||Dayman Ma`ak, دائما معاك||Tefeeda|
|Date with Happiness||Maw`ed Ma` al-Sa`adah, موعد مع السعادة||Ehsan / Amal|
|Struggle in the Valley||Sira` Fi al-Wadi, صراع في الوادي||Amal|
|1955||Our Beautiful Days||Ayyamna al-Holwa, أيامنا الحلوة||Hoda|
|Love and Tears||Hob Wa Dumoo`', حب و دموع||Fatimah|
|1956||Love Date||Maw`ed Gharam, موعد غرام||Nawal|
|Struggle in the Pier||Sira` Fi al-Mina, صراع في الميناء||Hameedah|
|1957||Road of Hope||Tareeq al-Amal, طريق الأمل||Faten|
|Land of Peace||Ard al-Salam, أرض السلام||Salma|
|Sleepless||La Anam, لا أنام||Nadia Lotfy|
|1958||The Barred Road||Al-Tareeq al-Masdood, الطريق المسدود||Fayza|
|The Virgin Wife||Al-Zawjah al-Azra', الزوجة العذراء||Mona|
|Lady of the Castle||Sayyidat al-Qasr, سيدة القصر||Sawsan|
|1959||Among the Ruins||Bayn al-Atlal, بين الأطلال||Mona|
|The Nightingale's Prayer||Doaa al-Karawan, دعاء الكروان||Amnah|
|1960||River of Love||Nahr al-Hob, نهر الحب||Nawal|
|1961||I Will Not Confess||Lan A`tref, لن أعترف||Amal|
|Don't Set the Sun Off||La Tutf'e al-Shams, لا تطفئ الشمس||Layla|
|1962||The Miracle||Al-Mu`jiza, المعجزة||Layla|
|No Time For Love||La Waqt Lil Hob, لا وقت للحُب||Fawziyah|
|The Open Door||Al-Bab al-Maftooh, الباب المفتوح||Laila|
|The Last Night||Al-Laylah al-Akheera, الليلة الأخيرة||Nadia / Fawziyah|
|1965||The Sin||Al-Haram, الحرام||Azizah|
|Story of a Lifetime||Hikayet al-`Omr Kolloh, حكاية العمر كلّه||Nadia|
|The Confession||Al-`Itriaf, الاعتراف||Nawal|
|1966||Something in My Life||Shai' Fi Hayati, شيء في حياتي||A'ida|
|1970||The Great Love||Al-Hob al-Kabeer, الحب الكبير||Hanan|
|1971||Thin Thread||Al-Khayt al-Rfee, الخيط الرفيع||Mona|
|1972||M Empire||Imbratoriyat Meem, امبراطورية ميم||Mona|
|1974||My Love||Habibati, حبيبتي||Samia|
|I Need a Solution||Oridu Hallan, أريدُ حلاً||Fawziyah|
|1977||Mouths and Rabbits||Afwah wa Araneb, أفواه و أرانب||Ne'mat|
|1979||Ladies Should Not Offer Condolences||Wa La `Aza'a Lil Sayyidat, ولا عزاء للسيدات||Rawya|
|1985||The Night of Fatima's Arrest||Laylat al-Qabd `Ala Fatimah, ليلة القبض على فاطمة||Fatimah|
|1988||Sweet Days.. Bitter Days||Yawm Mur Yawm Hilw, يوم مر.. يوم حلو||Aisha|
|1993||Land of Dreams||Ard al-Ahlam, أرض الأحلام||Nargis|
|1991||Miss Hikmat's Conscience (mini-series)||Dameer Ablah Hikmat, ضمير أبلة حكمت||Hikmat|
|2000||Face of the Moon (mini-series)||Wajh al-Qamar, وجه القمر||Ibtisam al-Bostany|
|2007||A Retired Minister (TBA)||Wazeerah 'ala al-Ma'ash, وزيرة على المعاش|