A Year After Sunset: Remembering Amina Rizk

Miranda Bechara

A year ago, the famous Egyptian actress Amina Rizk died at the age of 93 after a rich artistic life. Born in 1910, Rizk started her career at an early age when she moved to Cairo from Tanta with her mother, grandmother, and aunt after the death of her father. Her aunt, Amina Mohamed, was an actress with the Ramsis Theater, which had been established by the late Youssef Wehbi. Because of her aunt's example, young Amina entered the magical world of acting.

When she was 13 years old, Rizk had the opportunity to act in a supporting role in front of the theater founder; this occasion began her career as one of the pillars of the Ramsis Company. She acted in about 500 plays, among which were classics such as “Rasputin,” “ Les Miserables,” and “Le Misanthrope.” She also appeared in the silent movies of her day and, in 1928, she acted in the first Egyptian talking movie, “Souad the Gypsy,” directed by Jacques Shutz.

A capable actress, Rizk moved freely between Egyptian theater, cinema, radio, and television. She acted in more than 150 films, and was particularly known for portraying mothers. Despite the fact that she never married or had children, her motherly features and genuine acting made her the quintessential mother figure in Arabic movies. She always declared that she was wedded to her art. Rizk was a staunch defender of the arts and artists and always stood up in the face of stifling traditions and customs. She received many awards in Egypt and other Arab countries. In 1991, she was appointed to the Shura Council, the lower legislative body of the Egyptian government; Rizk became the first female artist to sit on the council. Her voice as Shehrazade in the “One Thousand and One Nights” radio series still echoes in many Arab households. Amina Rizk was one of the last living witnesses of the belle epoque of Egyptian art and culture. Her place will be very hard to fill.

This essay appears in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 48 (Summer 2004) 
Copyright (c) 2004 by Al Jadid