Modest World Premiere in Brighton, UK
You don’t expect to attend the world premiere of a very important, culturally significant and fascinating anthropological film experiment in a medium-sized lecture hall in the city of Brighton, UK. In a room of about forty tops, a group of international women were attending the Women in Art, Science and Research Conference and pleasantly surprised to be the very first audience to see the film adaptation of the scandal causing and goose-pumps’ creating BuSSy Monologues.
Khalid Abol Naga, the multi-award winning Egyptian director of the film adaptation, and Sondos Shabayek and Mona El-Shimi, two of the creative members of the BuSSy Project, were personally present and super nervous and excited to gage our response.
The BuSSy Monologues
What defines the BuSSy Monologues film as original is not that the stories told haven’t been visualized or known before in Arabic fiction film or novel art-making, but that these are honest and truthful first-hand accounts of real people, without any censorship of the details.
Acted out by a small dedicated team of young Egyptian actors and actresses and filmed as they preformed the original plays at various University venues in Cairo, some of the tales remain anonymous to protect the sources of truly horrendous confessions, but others do carry the brave names of those who came forwards.
The themes of the clips are controversial and deliberately challenge an Arabic and predominantly Muslim society that is very much scared of taboos and social stigmas, with the youngsters portrayed afraid to act outside the culture’s conservative mores and restrictive gender segregation.
What we see is they are all struggling not just for being young, but also having to live in a politically volatile landscape with high levels of poverty, unemployment and uncertainty about the future. Some characters are also from the unfortunate underground classes who are not even able to access a decent or standard level of education; but here are stories across the poor, middle and rich levels of Egypt to expose the realities of their existence.
Some of these are quite shocking and made worse by the fact that there seems to be little or no redress for the tellers of the stories in their societal environment. It is only through the writing of the confessions that there is hope for some personal relief.
In Farha, a simple poor woman is forced to marry an older man who infects her with AIDS and makes abnormal sexual demands on her. Innocently not even knowing how the disease is carried, her family and neighbours ostracize her when they find out and she spends years looking after him until he dies. She remains oblivious as to how her husband and she too caught the virus.
In My Son and Daughter, an uneducated housemaid inadvertently tells her wealthy female employer that her daughter is being married off to her brother with the complicity of the father and local sheik in order to save money on rent and living expenses. The incestuous sex is hinted at, also when the woman comments that she is worried her daughter might otherwise get pregnant from other male family members.
Again, in Salwa, an impressionable young girl is confused about having sexual experience and worried that her purity has been taken away. Naively, she believes that sleeping around might result in at least one man who will truly love her. Also, she talks about putting on the veil as a way to make her seem decent and good in the eyes of society.
In The Autobus, a young man tells of how the public transport buses in the city are a way for him to get glimpses of girls and so he can touch them up and flirt with them for a bit of secret sexual pleasure. Commenting that his humble job offers him only 400LE, there is no way he can afford a bride and marriage.
Another is The Wedding Night, where a young bride is told not to tell her husband of any previous romantic experience, because he may well badly judge her and this would cause problems in the marriage. There is a sad memorable quote here: “The perfect bride (or wife) is the perfect corpse.”
All the others are just as engaging from start to finish, with the acting done as individual monologues or of little two-way dialogues set in a simple theatrical background with very few props.
Collectively, they explore the deep anxieties and frustrations of an angry, unhappy, miserable and yet still humorous generation of young men and women in today’s Egypt. It is clear that the BuSSy project does not judge its very own content, but allows for a catharsis through the power of Art in relaying the most difficult of societal truths.
I highly recommend you view the film adaptation of the original plays, whichever clips are selected for later screenings. Hopefully, the artistic team will be able to find bigger audiences as they may now plan to embark on an international world tour. So watch out, it may soon be coming to a cinema near you.
The BuSSy Project
The BuSSy Project started in 2007, when in the spirit of artistic research, two students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) began to collect stories from young women about their personal memories and experiences of life and gender issues to turn them into a stage show. Their simple flyer read: “If you have a story about yourself or a woman you know, please pick up a submission form and share it.”
Five years into the project, and backed by a team of student actors and actresses, they were able to compile over 500 stories, from both male and female Egyptians and went to put on the plays. Receiving mainly negative and critical reviews in the local media, the Monologues spoke about the problems of the cultural and social pressures youngsters face but are too afraid to openly challenge.
In July 2010, when the BuSSy Project used a café to set up a stage and a section of a parking lot for a two-night performance, even the Egyptian government censors were informed and wanted to cut out some of the lines and scenes.
In defiance, the actors and actresses mimed the parts as a political statement that nothing will stop them, now that they were under way and gaining an interested and packed audience.
On that very night, Khaled Abol Naga, a very popular Egyptian actor, producer and director, was invited. He took an immediate interest in the project and offered to re-produce the stories for film with Mohamed Hefzy. Abol Naga is not just an artist, but also a passionate human rights and social activist, as well as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Egypt.
Currently, two young Egyptian ladies are also heavily involved with the project and to make the film a reality. Sondos Shabayek is a young writer, theatre director and actress who got on board in 2007 and is fully involved with the Monologues. The other is Mona El-Shimi, who is a psychologist, actress and “traveller”. She has also acted in the plays, co-directed the clips, coached and coordinated the Project since 2008.
For more information about the BuSSy Project: http://www.bussy.tv.
Also note: The Brighton screening was hosted by the support of Ethics in Performance, an art initiative that is part of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School. They organize and host a regular calendar of public events in collaboration with a variety of artists throughout the year. For more information: https://www.bsms.ac.uk/research/clinical-and-experimental-medicine/biomedical-ethics/ethics-in-performance/ethics-in-performance.aspx
Note: Note: This article was first published circa February 2013