Togo Mizrahi, an Egyptian-born Jew of Italian nationality, established a movie studio and production company in Alexandria, and became one of the most prolific filmmakers in Egypt in the 1930s and 40s. Films produced in Mizrahi’s Alexandria studio between 1934 and 1939 represent a culture of coexistence among the lower classes, featuring Jewish, Greek, Nubian, and Levantine characters, alongside the majority Muslim population. I argue that these films attempt to shape to the popular imaginary of what it means to be Egyptian through their representations of a diverse urban landscape.
This article examines two films that Mizrahi wrote, directed, and produced featuring a friendship between a Chalom, a Jew, and cAbdu, a Muslim: al-Manduban [Two Delegates, 1934]; al-cIzz Bahdala [Mistreated by Affluence, 1937]. These films construct an ethics of coexistence, perhaps best articulated through the repeated celebration of the dual weddings between Chalom and Esther, cAbdu and Amina.
The analysis of Chalom’s performance of identity in this article explores how Mizrahi’s films contributed to debates about who was Egyptian. In contrast to the social status of the Egyptian Jewish Bourgeoisie, this article argues that Mizrahi’s films specifically seek to articulate the place of Jews in the Egyptian polity through characterization of Chalom as a salt-of-the-earth, Arabic-speaking, ibn al-balad.
During the 1930s and 40s, Egyptian identity was hotly contested, with notions of national identity that excluded minorities eventually eclipsing the pluralist nationalism Mizrahi espoused. This article concludes that, despite Mizrahi’s effort to portray a culture of coexistence among equals, the Chalom and cAbdu films contain with themselves the discourse of otherness that were employed to drive a wedge between Egyptianness and Jewishness.