There will never be enough words to truly describe and celebrate Yousra, Egypt’s iconic and legendary actress, singer, fashion icon and philanthropist. She not only transformed the cinematic world back in the 80s, she also chose not to box herself in by taking on roles that re-shaped and challenged the norms of society and herself as an actress.
With over 50 years of experience and more than 100 films and television roles under her belt, the local, regional and international star managed to build and cement her stardom. In honor of her monumental legacy, we are taking a look back at her most significant moments, on and off the screen, throughout her decades-spanning career.
Her Bold Portrayal Of Sexuality (1991)
Yousra has taken up controversial and risky roles, with performances that stirred conversation in the region. Taking that dive, there is one role of hers that started a wave of discussions for its unapologetic and raw portrayal of female characters and their sexuality.
Back in 1991, “Al Raii We Al Nesaa” (The Shepherd and the Women) was a film that not only starred cinematic legends like Yousra, Soad Hosny and Ahmed Zaki, it also showcased each actor in a completely different light. When it came to Yousra, she completely stepped out of her comfort zone portraying a poor divorced village farmer rather than her usual innocent and aristocratic roles in films like 1981 flick “Al Ensan Ya`esh Mara Wahida” (You Only Live Once). Her character was lustful, sexual, gruff and scheming, treading the line between being good and completely self-centred. Seeing her that way shook audiences everywhere, almost costing her career but not only did she recover, the role pushed her career further.
Tackling Rape in “Adiyyeit Raie Aam” (2007)
It takes a special kind of courage and bravery to use the medium of TV to depict an aspect of humanity that is not only misunderstood but seen as taboo. Yousra once again took that mantle in the 2007 Ramadan show “Adiyyeit Raie Aam” (A Public Case), she depicted a married doctor who ended up getting raped along with two co-workers. In the show, viewers took a journey with each woman following their rape and when it came to Yousra, she was the only one who refused to be silenced and filed a lawsuit against the rapist. The actress showcased something new to Egyptian viewers, that it is okay to speak up and fight back.
“When I made the rape episodes…in the first week, I remember everybody was against it but by the end of Ramadan, everyone was clapping and it got the biggest viewership ever,” said Yousra during an interview with Variety magazine. Not only was the entire show a powerful conversation starter about rape and how it’s handled by society but according to Yousra it also went on to change laws, it was that powerful.
Fighting To End Aids (2016)
Beyond being known as a prominent actress, she is also famous for being a philanthropic figure who uses her platform and stardom to actively campaign for social change across the region. Back in January 2016, she was appointed as a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and Africa and from there she took on the role of advancing the AIDs response in the entire region. At the core of her work, Yousra focused on eliminating the ongoing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.
She took many important steps towards changing the narrative when it came to AIDS including her participation in the campaign for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS among stars like Elton John where she sent out a message asking world leaders to “eradicate” the virus by 2030. She also championed for the implementation and financing of the Arab AIDS Strategy.
The Viral Music Comeback (2017)
Following a decade-long sabbatical from the world of music, Yousra came back, making the ultimate splash in 2017 with her song “3 Daqat”. The romantic pop duet with Egyptian musician Abu shattered expectations and rose up the ranks. From the moment it was shared with the world during the 2017 El Gouna Film Festival where it earned a big standing ovation, it only continued to create even more noise. It not only stacked up a staggering 771 million views on YouTube, its popularity surpassed borders and even made a huge splash abroad in countries like the US and Europe where it was played in many spots including thriving night clubs.
Her Academy Award Invitation (2019)
Breaking tides and changing the narrative, back in 2019, the actress’ iconic status was cemented and celebrated when she became the first ever Arab actress to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, known as the official judging panel of the widely acclaimed Academy Awards. This is considered an illustrious honor as the Oscars are known to be one the most prestigious forms of recognition and esteem in the cinematic world and having Yousra be one of only three Arabs in the voting panel is a huge deal.
Knowing that she was going to be representing the Arab world on a prominent international platform, she took on the Oscars invitation as a way to further shine a significant light on the region. At the awards, she was able to represent the region by killing two birds with one stone; not only was she dressed in a Zuhair Murad creation, one of the most infamous Lebanese designers out there, she made sure that her dress gave a celebratory nod to ancient Egypt by having it be an off-white Pharaonic creation. On that day, she dazzled the red carpet and took on her new judging role with grace and pride.
With these milestones, we are barely scratching the surface as Yousra’s legacy is the kind that can never be measured nor fully appreciated due to its expansive nature. There is so much more to uncover and celebrate when it comes to the artist. She is barely holding back with three huge projects of hers set to be released in 2023 including the exciting new Ramadan comedy show called “Alf Hamdela Al Salama” (Welcome Back).