Source: Netflix

As7ab Wala A3az: the Arabic remake that shook society

Why try to fix society when you can hide behind family values and morals and turn a blind eye to real societal issues? Here is my take on the remake of Perfect Strangers and the controversy that followed.

Feb 13, 2022

Warning: This piece contains spoilers.
Trigger warning: This piece deals with sensitive societal topics (reader discretion advised)
Jan. 20 was the day As7ab Wala A3az, one of the 19 remakes of the original Italian movie Perfect Strangers, shook people globally. Directed by Wissam Smayra, the remake of Perfect Strangers, set in Lebanon this time around, starts with an atmosphere of tension and anxiety, as a group of seven friends agree to play a feisty game: their phones are kept on the dining table and any messages, notifications and calls they receive are shared loudly. The tension intensifies as the movie goes on, and everyone’s secrets are laid on the table. We watch as their seemingly close friendship breaks down, and everyone is betrayed by those they care for the most.
Featured photo of the As7ab Wala A3az movie poster, courtesy of Netflix.
I enjoyed the movie and many emotions surged through me as I watched the characters, who were very well cast, go through well-written individual journeys. Eyad Nassar, as Shereef, and Mona Zaki, as Mariam, perfectly portrayed the troubled married couple who lost the spark in their relationship and Adel Karam, as Ziad, embodied the macho man who is cheating on his wife with multiple other partners. Nadine Labaki, Georges Khabbaz and Fouad Yammine also excelled in their acting.
Because of the outstanding cast, I was awaiting the movie a month before its actual release date, but as time passed, it slipped from my mind. A day after its release, I was bombarded with Facebook posts about “family values”, which my mom read out loud without context. I was confused and curious and, to be honest, wished I had gone into the movie without having heard of these controversies.
I don’t believe the movie deserves the amount of backlash it received. It is a moving film in many aspects through its exploration of sex and sexual liberation, infidelity, contraception and queerness. Those on social media claiming that the movie glamorizes sin have missed the point. The purpose of any form of art is to tell a message or to depict a part of real life, whether it is relatable or not. The movie was never promoted as a family movie to begin with and has an age rating of 16+.
Other than that, Netflix is a subscription network and allows parental supervision. The movie serves as a commentary on the tensions that exist in our current world. People claiming that this movie has no footing in reality are delusional — men cheat, marriages fall apart and sexuality falls outside of cis-heteronormative constructs. Only last week, 17-year-old Mona Heydari was killed by her husband; Alaa Ramadan was allegedly pushed to death by hers and at the beginning of the year, Basant Khalid took her life after getting blackmailed with photoshopped pictures. When incidents such as these are a lived reality for many, you cannot claim that it is a movie which is ruining the reputation of our society.
Furthermore, viewers didn't stop at criticizing the movie but went on to harass the actors, especially Mona Zaki. People are often unable to separate the personal lives of the actors from the characters they play. The focus of everyone’s critique was just one scene where “Mona Zaki took off her undergarments from under her dress” (it all makes sense in the context of the film, trust me). Many viewers claimed this scene to be disgraceful and indecent, with many tracing it back to a moral failing in her recent work.
Mona Zaki has been in front of cameras for over 30 years and has always been adored and respected by her fans. However, due to her two most recent works Newton’s Cradle — where she portrays a pregnant lady who travels to the U.S. to give birth so that her child will have citizenship — and As7ab Wala A3az, she has garnered a lot of controversy. Many Egyptians took it as their job to call out both her and her husband, Ahmed Helmi, who is also an actor, on social media. Some comments were truly disgusting and included telling the couple to divorce. Some tweets questioned how Ahmed Helmi allowed his wife to play this part, while others questioned how the couple were not worried about their daughter seeing such a scene. The negative reactions didn't stop there as complaints were filed against the filmmakers for aiming to destroy family values and against the culture ministry for allowing the movie to be streamed. In response, The Egyptian actors syndicate justly came out with a statement supporting Mona Zaki and any form of art and cinema, as long as it serves some sort of meaning to a certain audience.
Viewers, however, chose to ignore the deeper meaning and the intention behind the story and its real life implications and were led by their initial shock to harass the actors and to distrust the validity of the movie. Asa7ab Wala A3az tells a story with an incisive commentary on real life. It is a step in the right direction for many and will lead the way to more art that touches upon such important questions.
Aarushi Prasad is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo