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Asmaa: Anti-Prejudice Film about AIDS in Egypt

  • Ahmed KamalHany Adel...
  • Drama
  • Amr Salama
reviewed by
Yasmin Shehab
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Asmaa: Anti-Prejudice Film about AIDS in Egypt

Asmaa (Sabri) has AIDS. She also has a gall bladder that’s acting up and
ironically enough, it may just kill her before the AIDS does. She goes from
doctor to doctor, trying to find someone willing
to remove her gall bladder. She’s met
with rejection and fear by the professionals who refuse to operate on her due
to their prejudice. At her wit’s end and severely hampered by the pain, she
reluctantly decides to accept an offer to become the first AIDS sufferer to
appear on Egyptian TV with her face in full view, in the hope that the
attention will result in a doctor willing to perform the surgery.

Preferring to dwell on the social problems that plague AIDS sufferers rather
than how the disease ravages their bodies, the film hammers home a few highly
valid points. Asmaa’s biggest issue is how people keep demanding to know how
she contracted the disease; not out of genuine curiosity but rather as a way of
making sure that she wasn’t sleeping around.

The problem with AIDS is the stigma attached to the disease as being the
sole province of prostitutes, junkies and homosexuals; hardly the sort of stuff that
would endear it to the general Egyptian population. We watch as Asmaa
encounters many people from different social classes and backgrounds, who all
shun her once they find out about the disease.

One particularly poignant scene is
where Asmaa is taken by a friend to a philanthropist doctor who has agreed to
operate on her for free. While discussing the details prior to the surgery,
though; he demands to know how she got infected so that he’d know whether he’d
be helping someone who actually needs his help or someone who deserves the
disease. This doctor is not the first person to play God in assessing whether or not she is worthy of help or
whether AIDS is a punishment for some prior action.

Hend Sabri gives a great performance as the eponymous star. Asmaa is a
strong, independent woman who, despite being based on a real person, is just
too perfect to be true. No matter how much she’s kicked around, she
never loses her sense of dignity. Dignity is a big theme in this film as is
exemplified by the scenes that portray an AIDS support group, which stars real-life AIDS sufferers who bravely agreed to be in
the film. These scenes strongly add to the film’s already dominant humane

The film walks a tight rope, balancing the depressing and the uplifting,
thus putting the spotlight on the film’s message rather than trying to make
viewers sob into their popcorn. However, the well-balanced tone is spoilt by the film’s
too-tidy ending, which seems like it was tacked on in an attempt to end it on a
happy note.

All in all, Asmaa does a highly commendable job of portraying such a
sensitive subject in such a compassionate and dignified way. So while we may not
have a cure for AIDS, we can change how those with the disease are perceived, and
this is the film’s true message; AIDS is like any other disease, why should it
be shameful? 

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Asmaa won two awards at this year’s Abu Dhabi film festival; Best Director for Amr Salama and Best Actor for Maged El Kedwany, who plays Mohsen the TV host.

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