5 Reasons Zeinat Sedki Still Shines: Remembering Egypt’s Queen of Comedy

Saturday May 4, 2019                       By: Lara Ahmed

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Zeinat Sedki (1912-1978) cheered up every scene she played in. Her humorous lines have been tattooed in the Egyptian culture. They are still used by Egyptians in their everyday language, even four decades after her death. She played roles in over 150 movies, but never of the lead character. She appeared alongside movie icons such as Faten Hamama, Shadia, Hend Rostom and Ismail Yaseen to name a few. Today, she would have been 106. She remains a distinct national treasure for Egyptians everywhere and a lovable artist for Arabs worldwide.

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Here are five facts you might not have known about her.

1- Sedki had bold beginnings: Zinat Zedki, née Zeinab Mohamed Mosaad, had a tough childhood. At 15, her father forced her to abandon school and marry a much older man. She divorced after one year. It was after her father’s death that she pursued her dreams to work in show business. Other than her mother, the rest of her family disproved her decision to join an acting association, thus prompted her to run away with a friend, who likely inspired her new surname: Sedki. She started her career as a singer, belly dancer and comedienne. Not before too long, actor and comedian Naguib Al Rihani noticed her budding talent. He advised her to change her first name to Zeinat, not to be confused with actress Zeinab Sedki.  Rihani went one step further and welcomed her to his comedy troupe where she performed a range of successful plays, among which was The Egyptian Pound (el Guineih el Masrî) in 1931.

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2- She wasn’t afraid to look silly and have attitude: Her blunt attitude was a trademark of her comedic style, yet Sedki’s roles were not just of an irritating character for viewers to poke fun at.  Known for her dry humor on screen, her lines were clever and funny, and always boasted an extra layer or two of wit behind the meaning. Though Sedki’s characters never matched the level of the leading actresses, her sharp tongue often gave their characters surprising advice that stirred the heroines into action.  Her facial expressions are also unforgettable. While actresses are often expected to look unrealistically beautiful in every scene, and not to contort their facial features, even for comedic effect,  Sedki didn’t shy from embracing funny facial expressions.

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3- She didn’t want to be typecast:  Known to play characters from a lower-class background, Sedki rose to the occasion when given the opportunity to mix things up. In the movie, Women’s Barber (1960) directed by Fateen Abdel-Wahab, she surprised the audience with her portrayal of a wealthy upper-class woman. Interestingly, her comedic roles also had more variations than one might think. Sedki often played the role of a landlord. Whether a mischievous one, or someone trying to survive chaotic lodgers, her lines sparked genuine laughter.  She mastered playing the role of the hopeless spinster always on the lookout for the ideal man, while advising the heroine on how to do the same, setting off a chain of disastrous events along the way. The most memorable role of a spinster she played was in the movies “Girls’ School” (1955) by Kamel El-Telmis and “Street of Love” (1958) by Ezz-Eldin Zulfikar. Zulfikar was already a fan of Sedki. He had hired her in many of his movies, including “Loyalty” and  “An Appointment with Life” in 1953.

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4- Forever a hard worker: Rest was not a word in Sedki’s vocabulary. Though the actress’s cinematic debut was in the movie “The Accusation” (1934), she credited her breakthrough to the movie “His Highness Wants to Marry” (1936), after which roles started lining up. Over the span of her career, she played roles over 172 movies. In 1954 alone, she performed in more than 20 movies, including “The Unjust Angel” and “People’s Hearts”.  No doubt, her prolific career made her an iconic figure of the Egyptian cinema.

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5- The unforgettable Zinat Sedki: As she got older, job offers dwindled, and towards the end of her life, producers stopped hiring her altogether. Sedki became penniless and resorted to selling her furniture to make ends meet. When she became broke, people turned their back on her. Ironic how job offers started pouring again on her after the late Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat honored her with a life achievement award in 1976. Sedki declined all offers due to the sharp decline in her health after being diagnosed with pulmonary edema. It was a shame that directors had to wait that long to acknowledge that her  spark was as bright as ever. She passed away in 1978, three years after her final movie “A Girl Named Mahmoud.”

Perhaps one of the most remarkable facts about Sedki, was her early career as a  stand-up comedian where she  performed monologues in local weddings; a profession that isn’t widespread among Egyptian entertainers. But Sedki wasn’t just a “comedienne”- she was a tough-as-nails one, equal to her male counterparts in skill and influence. She will forever remain Egypt’s Queen of Comedy.

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