Adel Imam: A Hallmark of Egyptian Cinema
By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Adel Imam is easily one of the most recognized names in the Arabic film industry. His acting career goes above and beyond the constraints of genre and theme as he’s filled roles ranging from schoolboy to warlord/dictator. His roles in his films have undoubtedly revolutionized Egyptian film making and put Cairo as an Arabic film mecca that continues its influence around the Arab world to this day.
Adel Imam was born May 17, 1940, and he attended Cairo University for his bachelor’s degree majoring in agriculture. Not soon after he graduated, Imam began his acting career in 1964 in a play called Ana Wa Howa Wa Heya (Him, Her and I). He stared in a couple more plays but his big break didn’t come until almost a decade later in 1973 with his role in the iconic play “Madrast Al-Mushaghebeen” (The School of Mischievous). Due to the plays major success in the Arab world, it launched Adel Imam into stardom. He was praised for his comedy and it kicked started his career into being one the most successful comedy actors the Arab world has ever seen.
He went on to complete over 100 movies and 10 plays and countless other mini TV series. Adel imam quickly became a staple of Arabic media on everyone’s TV sets. He was specifically known to play the underdog who seems hopeless at first but eventually rises to overcome systematic tyranny and oppression he’s lived under. A lot of his acting personas resonate with the audience as most people saw a little bit of themselves in the characters Imam plays. Although the majority of his work is based around humor, Imam didn’t shy away from politics whenever he could
In Imams film “Al Zaim” he outright denounced the regions use of authoritative force and dictatorship with a profound sense of humor. This was unique in that many stars refrained from getting too political as they’d fear for their lives and rather not rock the boat. Adel, however, wasn’t shy of calling out these authoritative regimes in his skits and plays. He wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind however, that’s not to say he never got into any trouble. In February 2012 Adel Imam was sentenced to 3 months in jail for “offending Islam” even though Imam considers himself a Muslim. This caused a huge outcry in the Arab world with many people taking to the streets to protest his sentence. He appealed the misdemeanor court’s decision later that year in September where they cleared him of defaming Islam in his films. This provided a much-needed discussion in the Arab world of freedom of thought and expression
Imam has also gotten involved with many humanitarian organizations in the region. In January 2000 he was appointed as a goodwill ambassador to the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) and later that year Imam traveled across the Arab world visiting refugee camps and trying to bring awareness to these dire situations. He’s also a political activist who continues to challenge the notions of governance in the region through his acting. Imam is also known for his critique of Muslim extremism in his shows and movies. In his movie “Terrorism and the Kebab” and “The Terrorist” he actively denounces religious fanaticism which many saw as a critique of the Muslim Brotherhood organization. Although some saw it as offensive a lot of the Arab world agreed with him and his push towards secularism.
Adel Imam is undoubtedly a cultural icon and continues to reinvent cinema with every movie and TV show he makes. Imam gave birth to Arab political satire through his characters and plays, he pushes the boundaries of culture all the while leaving his audience having the best laughs of their lives. He’s become a hallmark of Arab cinema, adored by millions of viewers across the Arab world. Adel Imam continues to act, his latest role was in a TV series that aired from 2018-present called “Awalem Khafyah” (Hidden worlds). Although he’s been in the industry for decades, His career is far from over.