The Arab collective memory has long associated Youssef Chahine with serious, conservative, intellectual, and political cinematography.
Though true to a certain extent (and for some of his best works, for that matter), these labels do not necessarily apply to most of his cinematic works.
While there’s nothing wrong with a work of art or literature being associated with political or intellectual themes, the case of Youssef Chahine, in particular, seems unfair, as these labels can often hurt an artist.
Stereotypes hurt artists and masses alike
Given the prevailing perceptions, the reception of an artist’s work away from the labels ingrained in the minds of the masses and the collective memory is difficult.
The reception of Russian literature in the Arab world illustrates this perfectly. For several decades, Russian literature was associated with communist, socialist, and leftist movements in our region.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian literature lost a great deal of its popularity. Translation and readership of Russian literary oeuvres declined, although many of Russia’s greatest literary figures like Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Lermontov had no association with communism and communist propaganda.
Another example is American culture and literature. Against the backdrop of the political and ideological conflict with “Imperialist America”, Arab literature critiques were quick to pigeonhole American literature and culture.
Only a select few literary figures, like Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Noam Chomsky, managed to escape the stereotype.