Editor’s note: if you are in San Francisco, don’t miss our Pride screening at the newly renovated San Francisco LGBT Center on June 22nd!
Get your tickets here.
It’s June, which means it’s LGBT Pride Month! This is a time to celebrate people of all sexual orientations and genders. Here at AFF, we are of course celebrating by watching movies. People are often surprised to learn that queer Arab films and filmmakers openly exist, but they most certainly do and this misconception makes it all the more important that we acknowledge and celebrate them. To celebrate Pride, we have compiled short list of Arab films that tackle the stories and experiences of LGBTQIA people.
Oriented (2015, Palestine/Israel)
This documentary by Jake Witzenfield follows the lives of three gay Palestinian men who live in Tel Aviv. Throughout the film, they must confront both their national and sexual identities. The film stars Khader, a Tel Aviv “darling” from a well-known Muslim mafia family who lives with his Jewish boyfriend David and their dalmatian Otis. It also stars Fadi, a Palestinian nationalist who falls in love with an Israeli man, and Naim a man who must come out to his family about his sexuality. The three friends form a group called “Qambuta” that is a non-violent, cultural resistance movement that fights for gender and national equality.
I Exist (2003, United States)
A documentary by Peter Barbosa and Garrett Lenoir, I Exist gives a voice to gay and lesbian Americans from the Middle East, who often remain silent out of shame and fear. This film interviews a number of young people and their families and allows them to share their experiences combating the negative stereotypes that revolve around both their sexuality and ethnicity.
I Can’t Think Straight (2008, UK)
This romance story, which was directed by Shamim Sharif and is originally based on a book by the same name, follows Tala, a London-based Palestinian woman who is planning an elaborate wedding back in the Middle East. She meets Leyla, a British Indian woman who is dating her best friend. They are complete opposites but they find themselves totally attracted to each other, regardless. Despite the clear attraction, Tala cannot accept the implications of choosing to stay with Leyla so she flees back to Jordan. Leyla is insistent that she wants to continue to be with Tala, despite the objections from her very traditional family. As Tala’s wedding day approaches, she feels the pressure to be true to herself and must make a decision about the path her life will take.
My Brother the Devil (2012, UK)
In this drama from Sally El Hosaini, two teenage brothers named Mo and Rashid (AKA Rash), who are of Egyptian descent and live with their parents in Hackney, find themselves tangled up in the dark world of drugs and gangs. Rash is a low level drug dealer who uses his earnings to pay for small luxuries for them while fiercely protecting his younger brother. But Mo wants to be like Rash and follows in his footsteps into a world that is far from glamorous. As their situation quickly goes from bad to worse, Rash dreams of finding his way out of the gang. He is eventually offered a “clean” job as a photography assistant for his friend Sayyid. He and Sayyid begin to get close and strike up an intimate relationship that makes Mo jealous and angry and pushes Mo deeper into gang life while pushing the brothers further and further apart.
A Jihad for Love (2007, USA/UK/France/Germany/Australia)
Filmed in 12 countries and 9 languages, this documentary, directed by gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma, tells the colorful and varied stories of gay and lesbian Muslims from all over the world. It explores the complex intersections of religion and sexuality and the concept of a greater personal Jihad, the true definition of which is “an inner struggle” or “to strive in the path of God”.
Salvation Army (2013, Morocco/France/Switzerland)
In this directorial debut by Abdellah Taïa, Abdellah, a young gay man, is trying to find his way through the difficult sexual, political and racial climate of Morocco. He is part of a large family with a distant father, a demanding mother, an older brother he looks up to, and some predatory older men, all in a society that doesn’t recognize or support his sexuality. He eventually decides to move away to Geneva for college and though he finds new found freedoms in Switzerland, he must come to terms with the loss of his homeland.
All My Life (2008, Egypt)
For Rami, the star of this film by Maher Sabry, all is well in the world, just as long as he keeps to himself. He is 26, living in Cairo, working as an accountant, studying dancing and dating a man named Waleed. But when Waleed suddenly dumps him to marry a woman, Rami must face the reality of life as a gay man in Egypt. All of this comes at a time of a major crackdown on gay men and the notorious Queen Boat arrests of 2001. Rami finds himself spiraling downward before finally hitting rock bottom.
I Am Gay and Muslim (2012, Morocco/Netherlands)
This documentary, filmed by Chris Belloni, focuses on gay rights in the Islamic world. The film follows young gay Moroccan men as they explore their religious and sexual identities. The men speak openly about their experiences and the secretiveness of the lives they live.
The String (2009, Tunisia/Algeria/France/Belgium)
This film directed by Mehdi Ben Attia tells the story of Malik, a tall, quiet 30-year old Parisian architect who moves home to Tunisia after his father passes away. Back at home with his overbearing mother, he finds himself pressured to stay in Tunisia and get married. The combination of being back in his hometown, this pressure from his mother and his homosexuality causes him to have frequent panic attacks. He finds calm only when he meets Balil, a handsome handyman. They begin a relationship but find it complicated by religion, class consciousness and Malik’s mother.
They (2017, Qatar/USA)
They, directed by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, is the story of 14-year old J who uses the pronoun “They” and lives with their family in the Chicago suburbs. They’ve been exploring their gender identity while taking hormone blockers to postpone puberty. But after a few years on the hormones, they finally have to decide if they’d like to transition. The film takes place over a weekend that J spends without their parents and just with their sister and her Iranian partner as they try to make this crucial decision. Though this film is not about an Arab character or by an Arab filmmaker, a large portion of filming took place in Qatar.
What are your thoughts on these films? Did we miss any of your favorite queer Arab films? Let us know in the comments!
If you want more queer Arab film this Pride Month, make sure to join us for our inaugural Pride screening ARAB LOVE on June 22nd at the SF LGBT Center!