The announcement of the upcoming comedy film El Nono, produced by the Saudi Entertainment Authority and starring Ahmed Helmy, has ignited a firestorm of criticism. Helmed by Turki Al Sheikh, the film features Helmy as a con artist who preys on pilgrims and Umrah performers. It prompts a heated debate on social media about whether it perpetuates negative stereotypes of Egyptians.


Immediate Backlash

The moment the concept of El Nono was revealed, it faced a torrent of criticism. Many accused the film of promoting a derogatory image of Egyptians, especially considering Helmy's character as a thief exploiting the Hajj season.


Question of Representation

People argue that this portrayal unfairly maligns Egyptians. Some say the backlash was a reaction fueled by long-standing societal tensions and prejudices. Critics of the film did not pause to consider the broader context or the potential artistic merit of portraying such a character.


Reflecting Reality

Proponents counter that if such characters exist in real life, their representation in film can serve as a catalyst for change. By exposing these unsavoury elements, cinema can help society recognise and address underlying problems rather than pretend they do not exist.  Historically, cinema has never shied away from portraying individuals in disreputable or controversial roles, with countless renowned artists playing characters that mirror society's darker aspects. Denying the existence of such characters on screen only serves to obscure reality, hindering efforts to address and resolve these issues.


The Saudi-Egyptian Dynamic

Some suggest that the criticism stems from the film being a Saudi production rather than an Egyptian one. They argue that sensitive topics like national identity and societal flaws should be handled internally, without external influence. However, it's worth noting that successful films like Welad Rizk 3 were produced in Egypt and touched on similar themes of crime and corruption without provoking such a backlash.


A Golden Opportunity

The collaboration between Saudi producers and Egyptian artists presents a unique opportunity. It allows Egyptian cinema to access new funding sources, expand its artistic horizons, and experiment with different production techniques. This partnership could help rejuvenate Egyptian cinema, which has suffered from a lack of innovation and limited production budgets in recent years. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia benefits from marketing its newly built tourist sites through their showcasing in the movies.


Fear of Stereotypes

Some voices in the industry, like artist Sabri Fawaz and writer Ayman Salama, have defended the film. They argue that portraying a character with negative traits does not equate to condemning an entire nation or profession. Dramatic characters are meant to reflect individual human conditions, not broad generalisations. Films like El Gezira depict flawed characters and do not tarnish the reputation of all Egyptians or people from Upper Egypt.