Censorship. The very word sounds like a death knell to all filmmakers and film critics from around the world. Although it is mostly the objectionable parts of the film that are censored by the censor board, many a time it is seen that extremely important parts of the film are completely chucked. In recent times, too, many films in India have faced the brunt of the overpowering censor board. While one may favor or disfavor the censor board(s), do you know when was the first time censorship came to be? Well, it was way back in 1896. And the film was ‘Little Egypt Dances for Edison’.
Made in 1896, ‘Little Egypt Dances For Edison’ was filmed on a belly dance scene by the then famous dancer Fatima Djemille. All of one minute and four seconds, this movie captures the belly dancer performing on Old Road by Kevin Macleod.
Fatime Djemille had appeared for two earlier films – ‘Edison’s Coochee Coochee Dance’ (1896) and ‘Fatima’ (1897), after becoming famous at Chicago World Fair in 1893. Since belly dancing as a dance form was not a part of the western culture and performing arts, this dance form did raise quite many eyebrows back in those days. A glimpse of the same can be seen in this film, which intended to capture Fatime or ‘Little Egypt’ in her full glory.
On watching this video, you shall see how Fatima lapses into “muscle dance” after twirling around a few times. However, the moment she takes over “muscle dance”, her body is kind of hidden and censored as this part is known to have attracted quite a bit of notoriety back in those days.
It is to be noted that during the 1890’s, there were four people performing as “Little Egypt”. While Farida Mazar is known as the first Little Egypt (it was she who apparently coined the term “belly dance”), Ashea Wabe (who rose to the peak of her success with her performances at Fifth Avenue, NY’s “Seeley bachelor party” held at the Sherry Restaurant) claimed herself to be the “genuine one”.
However, Ashea Wabe’s claim of being the most “genuine” Little Egypt was unconfirmed till her death in 1898 in Omaha.