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A Little Girl Becomes a Vigilante Hero in Short Film 'The Shadow of Cairo'

A little girl finds refuge in the colourful world of superheroes after her mother's death. Director Tara Shehata's short film, 'The Shadow of Cairo', is not just an adventure of inner strength - it's an insightful look at a woman's place in Cairo.

After her mother dies during surgery, a young Egyptian girl named Maya blames evil forces and vows to avenge her. Finding refuge in the colourful world of superheroes, Maya decides to fight these forces herself as a vigilante, armed with a can of pepper spray. Writer-director Tara Shehata's short film, 'The Shadow of Cairo', is not just an adventure of inner strength, or an exploration into Maya's anger and grief - it's an insightful look at a woman's place in contemporary Cairo.

"The movie premiered at an Oscar-qualifying New York International Children's Festival in 2019. Even though I didn't mean for it to be a children's story, I had a great reception there, and it opened up a big topic because people aren't aware of sexual harassment in other countries," Shehata tells #CairoScene. "When I presented it here in Egypt, I got a mixed reaction. It resonated with women, but I felt my male friends were offended a little, saying things like, 'Harassment happens in other countries too.' But the reason I made it about Egypt is because here is where I grew up."

In a sense, a lot of the director is reflected in the film, and particularly in the protagonist. Shehata loved Western films and cartoons, but as a child she was also confronted with street harassment. "I wanted to put that fantasy into my work and ask, 'Can Maya's idealism beat the reality she lives in?'"

Reality is seeped into the backdrop of the film. Despite the upbeat music and pacing that accompanies Maya's comic book antics, her neighbourhood is dimly lit with trash on the ground, and eventually, the villains return as real men, threatening her with actual violence. It's an inescapable reality - one that popped up during the making of the movie.

"While we were filming, we got two men harassing our actors. Maya's actress was a kid who lived her life in Dubai and Switzerland, so it was her first time in the streets of Egypt. I felt like protecting her instantly and I didn't know what to do. Thankfully, her mother was always on set. She explained that this kind of thing happens a lot, and that this is why we're making this movie."