Faces of Black Excellence

How Youssef Wahbi went out of his way to become the most influential in the evolution of Egyptian cinema and theater

Choosing a profession to dedicate one’s life to has never been simple. Most of the time, the decision about one’s career is based on a number of interconnected factors. Factors including parental approval, interest in and dedication to the field, and the potential for financial gain are all important. 

Youssef Wahbi went against his father’s wishes and became a major figure in the Egyptian theatrical and film industries in the 1930s. Wahbi is the only artist in Arab art history to have worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, manager, and owner of assets in both the theater and film industries. Reports say that Wahbi left an indelible mark on every part of the arts, from writing and performing music to comedy, film editing, set design, and even public relations.

Wahbi was born on July 14, 1898, in the Fayoum province of Upper Egypt to an aristocratic family; his father was the province’s senior irrigation inspector. He had his elementary education in Fayoum, then moved to a high school in Giza, and then joined the High School of Agriculture.

On the other hand, he was very interested in the arts. He started going to shows by the George Abbayad group and later joined the Hassan Fayek and Aziz Eid troupes, where he would deliver lengthy monologues during the play’s quiet periods. After finding out that he was working in theater, his father became enraged and forced him to leave the family home, Ashraf Gharib wrote.

In 1921, Wahbi returned to Egypt after spending the previous year studying theater in Italy. He started the Ramses Theater Company, which was made up of all of the best actors of the time. Wahbi exerted himself creatively for the betterment of Egyptian culture and its principles. 

Wahbi became the most famous master of Arab theater and film by putting on more than 300 plays and more than 60 films. He wrote to bring attention to the importance of society’s norms and traditions. After watching Wahbi’s “Love and Revenge,” King Farouk crowned him “Beek Sir.” In addition to his many honors, he was known as “The Dean of the Arabic Theatre.”

Other sources say Wahbi directed and acted in Egypt’s first film in which Egyptian and Arabic were spoken. It was released in 1932. The film’s title was “The Sons of the Aristocrats,” and it did so well. Wahbi starred in and directed his third piece, “The Defense,”  in 1935. Wahbi also acted in and produced a number of movies, such as “The Eternal Glory” and “A Rumor of Love.” 

His film, “Sons of the Aristocrats,” is thought to be the first Egyptian movie with sound. In the 1940s, he worked with the Nahas Brothers to start Nahas Studio, an important place to make movies in Egypt.

Wahbi was one of a kind among his contemporaries since he was able to successfully merge the film and theater industries. It is believed that Wahbi passed away on October 17, 1982. Four decades after his passing, Wahbi is remembered for his immense contributions to the growth of the Egyptian film and arts industry. 

Emmanuel Kwarteng

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