CAIRO: Associate provost and director of core curriculum in the American University in Cairo (AUC) John Swanson, mocked the Hollywood portrayal of Ancient Egypt, during a talk he gave Wednesday night at AUC.
Swanson believes that people formulate an understanding about cultures in different ways.
Popular culture is a tool used to try to get a sense of the past or present of other cultures, and try to come to terms with other cultures, said Swanson.
He explained that Hollywood movies during the 50s and 70s only showed interest in Ancient Egypt, or the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Directors became fixated with only one period of time that existed 2,000 years ago. The movies show that Egypt ceases to exist beyond that period, and also show stereotypical plots that are divorced of anything that has to do with Modern Egypt, said Swanson.
The Spy Who Loved Me, a movie starring Roger Moore, playing British MI 5 agent James Bond, is a perfect example of stereotypes about Egypt. Swanson watched this movie in an Egyptian theater in the 70s where he witnessed the reactions of Egyptian youth cheering, This is Egypt, as they saw Bond inside the mosque of Ibn Toulon in Cairo and as he casually spoke in Arabic.
The movie shows scenes of Arab hospitality inside tents in the desert where he was served by blond women wearing belly dancing outfits.
Swanson commented: This is a movie worth seeing because it is fun, problematic and silly in what they do in Egypt. Swanson also explained that the theme most dominant in Hollywood movies about Egypt is not based on consistent and actual fact but rather on the eye-catching appeal of a chosen setting.
The movie Death on the Nile, starring Peter Ustinov, also shows a jumble of scenes in different temples like Kom Ombo, Abu Simbel and Aswan in a very short time frame, giving the mistaken impression that all Egyptian monuments are grouped together in one place.
Egyptian sites were also popular due to the convenience and easy access to film extensively, as opposed to other countries like Saudi Arabia. Spike Lee, the director of Malcolm X , filmed part of the movie in Egypt as Malcolm X passes through Cairo on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Swanson created a satirical and exaggerated version of what he called The Seven Great Historical Stages of Humankind. He titles each stage with the name of a principal artist from his extensive collection and knowledge of movies.
He named the first stage The Age of Raquel Welch, who is a famous and beautiful actress. Her movies in the 50s started off a wave of stereotypes on skin and hair color and factual inconsistency. Movies on Egypt would later suffer from this idea of blondes prancing around in fur bikinis and haute couture.
More than 20 movies were mentioned, where Swanson discussed the change in the perception of Ancient Egypt and other civilizations through time.
Swanson is also a Political Science professor who has been teaching at the AUC for 30 years. He received his BA and MA from Butler University, and his PhD from Indiana University.