Once the Cinderella of the Arab Screen, Tragedy Overshadowed Layla Murad’s Life and Career

Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
Photographs of Layla Murad, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation/Armand Collection.
A common methodology for Arab critics, journalists, historians, and academics in studying different cinema, music, and other art fields is to categorize them under “Golden” or “Classic” eras, which are defined based on a system of values, a code of behavior, or another classification, such as progressive or conservative. The downside of this method is that it may not allow for impartial analysis and may prevent a thorough understanding of the subject at hand. The findings ultimately derive from the researcher’s tendency to accept data that confirms their biases or the opposite — omitting and rejecting data that contradicts their preconceived notions, an approach that social psychologists term “cognitive consistency.” As a result, the study instead becomes a distortion of facts, an imperfect investigation born out of efforts to alter inconsistencies and remove the elements that cause discomfort to the researcher.
In writings about Layla Murad, one of the iconic stars of Egyptian cinema's "Golden Age," she is often characterized as socially liberal, with a proactive attitude in her relationships and a rebellious personality. In contrast, others considered her a conservative, playing roles that perpetuated the stereotyped “good woman” on the screen. Researchers encountering these two mutually opposed portrayals would struggle in attempts to develop a coherent narrative of Murad or otherwise risk an inconsistent image of the "Cinderella of the Arab Screen."
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