Women's Lives on Screen

Beyond the Voice of Egypt: Reclaiming Women’s Histories and Female Authorship in Shirin Neshat’s Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017)





‘accented’ cinema, biopic, female artist, authorial self-inscription, rewriting history


By drawing on postcolonial feminist discourse and Hamid Naficy’s (2001) notion of ‘accented’ cinema, in particular his approach of combining the interstitial position of exilic and diasporic filmmakers with concepts of authorship and genre, this paper explores the intersection between biographical film, gendered rewriting of history, and self-narrative as a site of resistance to nationalist and patriarchal ideologies in Shirin Neshat’s Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017). I argue that Neshat’s authorial style and her position as an exilic artist inflect the biographical film in its traditional form, showcasing an innovative perspective on the genre, restructuring it to reveal the constructedness of not only a cinematic process, but also of history and historical figures. Blending the stories of a present-day Iranian woman filmmaker and the professional life of the legendary Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum, Neshat displaces the biopic from its Western-centric roots by explicitly opening it up to a discourse of contemporary gender politics in the Middle East. In doing so, she exposes the social forces that shape the production of the biopic in relation to the notion of female authorship in the context of the transcultural circuits and feminist reclaiming of Oum Kulthum’s international stardom.

Author Biography

Marija Antic, Monash University

Marija Antic is a teaching associate and a Ph.D candidate at Monash University working on Iranian diasporic women’s cinema. She has also delivered a series of lectures at the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. Her research interests include feminist theory and women’s filmmaking with an emphasis on representations of gender, sexuality, and cultural identity in contemporary transnational cinemas. Previous scholarship on Iranian cinema and gender has been published in Genero: Journal of Feminist Theory and Cultural Studies.





Women's Lives on Screen