December 17 marks the birthday of one of the most prominent cinema pioneers in Egypt and the Arab world. Actress Aziza Amir was able, with her strong will, to contribute to the creation and establishment of Egyptian cinema. And she became an independent film institution, as she was not satisfied with being the most famous star of the theater and cinema, but also did not leave anything related to cinema that she did not do. She was the first woman to establish a production company, write films, and is the first female director in the Arab world. She even practiced editing. She was also the first woman to receive the first awards for cinema workers from the Ministry of Education. Therefore, Talaat Harb said about her, that she achieved what many could not achieve. And she deservedly deserved the nicknames given to her by the audience and critics, “The First Lady of Cinema” and “Mother of Cinema”. On her birthday, let us learn about the story of Aziza Amir, and her outstanding contributions to Egyptian cinema.
Her birth and Early Life
Moufida Mahmoud Ghoneim, the original name of the artist, Aziza Amir, was born on December 17, 1901. In the city of Tanta, Gharbia Governorate, after the death of her father, she moved with her family to Alexandria to spend her childhood, and then moved to the Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood in Cairo. Although she attended school, she did not complete her education, due to the difficult financial conditions of her family. Nevertheless, she was able to learn the French language and the principles of music.
In 1920, when Aziz Amir was nineteen years old, she traveled to France to work with a friend of hers. There, she met one of the notables of Upper Egypt, Qalini Pasha Fahmy. Who took care of her and helped her, and presented her to the director of a cinema company in Paris. She took acting auditions and was accepted, and she almost became an actress in French cinema. But she wanted to travel to Germany first to treat an old illness she feared would block her path to stardom. After receiving treatment for several months, she returned to Paris and from there to Egypt. In fulfillment of the desire of her family, who asked her to return, especially after her French friend abandoned her and refused to help her.
Despite her love for cinema, Aziza Amir’s artistic start was in the theater. And that was through her joining the Ramses Theatrical Troupe, headed by the artist Youssef Wehbe, who chose Aziza Amir as her artistic name. And her first performance was the play “False Prestige” in 1925. Her joining the band came through a lie that Aziza started her artistic life with. She claimed that she was a wealthy aristocratic girl, when she was auditioning for Youssef Wahbi, but later admitted the truth to him.
The following year, Aziza moved to the Okasha Boys Troupe, and performed in several plays. She then moved between the most famous theater groups at this time, such as the Najib Al-Rihani Theater and the Arab Acting Theater, to eventually return to the Ramses Theater. When the Egyptian National Ensemble was established in 1935, it played the starring role in the opening play “Ahl al-Kahf”.
Entering the world of cinema
In 1926, Aziza Amir met the Turkish director and actor Wedad Orfi, who persuaded her to enter the production field. She decided to establish her own film company, which she called “Isis Film”. And she produced her first film, which was its first version, entitled “Nedaa Allah”. Because of her dispute with the film’s director and hero, Wedad Orfi, who presented her with an incomplete and distorted version of the film. Aziza Amir deleted his scenes and replaced him with Ahmed Allam, and made some modifications to the film’s script. The film was shown in its second edition in 1927, entitled “Layla”. Which is the first long silent film that was produced in Egyptian cinema by purely Egyptian hands, acting, writing, directing and producing.
Her film career
After that, Aziza continued directing, producing, writing and acting in films, and her artistic career spanned 28 years, during which she acted in nearly 20 works, including: “Mr. High and Mighty wants to get married, the apple seller, Hababa, Nadia.” She also authored 16 works, including: “My daughter, the invisibility cap, Destiny and fate.” As for production, she produced 26 works, the most famous of which were: Valley of the stars, brown Adam, burning candle, gift, morals for sale.
Her last film was “I Believe in God”, which was shown in cinemas after some chapters of its original version were burned in the Cairo fire in January 1952. Due to the death of Aziza Amir, she was unable to re-shoot her scenes, so the director made some adjustments, so that the film was shown in November of the same year, and a large bouquet of flowers was placed in the place of the heroine.
Question of Palestine
For Aziza Amira, cinema was a refined and purposeful art, so she was the first to use cinema to serve national and patriotic causes. Through the production of the first film that talks about the Palestinian cause under the title “A Girl from Palestine”. She herself wrote the story and script for the film, directed and starring Mahmoud Zulficar, with Souad Mohamed, Hassan Fayek and Zainab Sedky, and it was shown in November 1948. Aziza Amir also starred in the movie “Nadia” in 1949, with her husband Mahmoud Zulfikar, Shadia, Shukri Sarhan and Salah Nazmi, directed by Fatin Abdel Wahab, and the story of Youssef Gohar.
Aziza Amira was known for her intense fear of envy, her belief in luck, optimism and pessimism. She even resorted to some strange rituals, before showing her films, to get rid of envy and achieve success. She attended the premiere of her first movie, and she wore a large number of charms under her clothes. One of them is to prevent envy, and the second is so that the audience and critics like the film, and the other is to prevent her husband’s family from burning down the cinema house as they threatened, because of their refusal to work and her husband in the cinema and films, and the last is a veil so that the film won the admiration of Talaat Harb in order to provide her with money to produce other films. When all of Aziza Amir’s wishes for the film were fulfilled, she made sure that she did not attend any screening of her films unless she carried these veils under her clothes. Once, when she attended the special screening of the movie “At Repentance for Your Sin”, that Aziza forgot the prince of the veil for her husband’s family. On the same night, her husband told her that his family had given him the choice between divorcing her or depriving him of the inheritance, and indeed he chose to divorce her on the same night.
Not only with Aziza Amir on her veils, but also extended to her cat “Simbo”, who was optimistic about her and feared for her envy. So she dressed her in a chain with a blue bead, in the belief that it would protect her from envy.
Her personal life and her husbands
There were many rumors about the number of Aziza Amir’s marriages, as it was said that at the age of nineteen she married a wealthy man, most likely Qalini Pasha Fahmy, who took her with him to France and helped her in the beginning of her artistic career. But this marriage did not last long because of the age difference between them, and he was married to another woman and had children. Then she married Ahmed Al-Sharei, the wealthy upper Egyptian and mayor of Samalut, in 1927. But he divorced her based on the wishes of his family. She decided to take revenge on him, and married his brother, Mustafa al-Shari’i, in 1933. But she asked him for a divorce after 7 years because of his marriage to another woman. Her last marriage was in 1944 to Mahmoud Zulfiqar, whom Aziza presented for the first time as an actor in the movie “The Apple Seller”, which was the beginning of the love story that brought them together. Together, they established a production company known as Aziza Films Company. As for the children, Aziza Amir had one child, but he died several hours after birth, and she did not have any children after that. She always said that she gave birth to only one daughter, the cinema, which is why she was called “the mother of Egyptian cinema”.
Aziza Amir had several accidents that almost cost her life, the first was when she was traveling on the agricultural road on her way from Cairo to Alexandria and her car suddenly veered off the road in the direction of a deep canal, and she miraculously escaped death. The second incident was while she was on a boat tour in the waters of the Nile, and unusually high waves came out, causing the boat to fill with water, and Aziza would have drowned had it not been for people to save her.
In early 1952, Aziza Amir fell ill with a terminal illness that made her unable to move, and she suffered from unexplained severe pain. Her husband, Mahmoud Zulficar, suggested that she travel to France to follow up with doctors and get treatment. After her medical trip, Aziza Amir returned to Cairo, and she moved away from the artistic community for two months, during which time she was treated with painkillers. However, she passed away on the morning of February 28 of the same year, at the age of 51. Her passion for art continued to inspire all the filmmakers who came after her.