Abuse of Power: Egypt’s Gender Politics in Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story


Arab social inequality is tackled through episodic melodrama in Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story, an Egyptian feminist tale told with both affecting compassion and made-for-TV corniness. Yousry Nasrallah’s film concerns talk-show host Hebba (Mona Zaki), who—spurred by her ambitious state-newspaperman husband Karim’s (Hassan El Raddad) demand that she tone down her inflammatory anti-government rhetoric lest he lose a coveted editor-in-chief position—chooses instead to shift her program’s focus to women’s issues. The heartrending and highly politicized stories of her subsequent three female guests—a lifelong virgin spinster, a businesswoman and convicted murderer, and a married dentist—are a veritable catalog of domination, subjugation, and manipulation, topics that Nasrallah handles with respectful if drawn-out plotting. Scheherazade is candid in addressing institutionalized violence, oppression, and mistreatment—there are bracing images of abortion and physical brutality—but too often messages are proffered through blunt exposition. Nasrallah’s artistry is ultimately incapable of matching his narrative’s social significance.