ِBahiga Hafez in Layla the Bedouin

In 1937, the pioneering Egyptian filmmaker Bahiga Hafez (1901-1983) released an historical film entitled Layla, Daughter of the Desert (ليلى بنت الصحراء).  She both directed and starred in the film.

This film was based on the tale of al-Barraq Ibn Rawhan and Layla Bint Lukayz. The British banned the film in its overseas territories (specifically Palestine and India) for what was seen as its objectionable portrayal of Persians.  It was also banned by the French in Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco.

In 1944, Hafez re-released the film under the title Layla the Bedouin (ليلى البدوية).  It is unclear what changes she made to the film, but this later version was allowed by the censors--at least by the British, the French still banned it in Morocco, apparently due to its negative portrayal of a monarch.

Curiously, Bahiga Hafez seems to have changed the name of the monarch from "Chosroes" (كسرى), the name of several ancient Persian kings, in the 1937 version to "Kinga" in the 1944 version.  To the extent that the film may be read as a nationalist allegory pitting Arab warriors against a foreign tyrant, Hafiz, with this switch of names, would seem to be making a significant political shift.  It is not the Iranians she is now targeting with criticism but rather the British.

Dialogue from film clip

Kinga: What are you afraid of? You'll soon be the wife of the greatest king of the east.

Layla: May God prolong your days, your majesty.   I am just a poor Bedouin girl.

Kinga: A beautiful creature like you is only meant for palaces and the good life.

Layla: I cannot stand life behind the walls of palaces.  Happiness for me is to live in the desert near my father.  Permit me, your majesty, to return to him.

Kinga: You discontented gazelle. Soon you'll get used to life here.

Layla: No! No! Impossible!

Kinga: Rest assured.  You'll be happy.

Layla: No.


Another scene from the film

Dialogue from second film clip

Layla: Let me go back to my people.

Kinga: Tomorrow you'll be in my arms and you'll forget your people.

Layla: No, I'll never belong to anybody but to the man I love.

Kinga: You'll forget those beggars when you'll be my queen... Thank you, Ziyad, I am satisfied with you.  Prepare clothes and perfumes for the marriage ceremony.  Tomorrow Layla will be my wife.

Layla:  Father!  Father!

A cartoon that was screened with the film