Thursday, January 06, 2005

I Exist and In the Name of Allah: Documentaries on Gay and Lesbian Arabs and Muslims

I found at Islamicate that Parvez Sharma, an Indian-born director based in New York, is working on a documentary film on gay and lesbian Muslims In the Name of Allah and planning to take it on the festival circuit in 2006 (Matthew Hays, "Act of Faith: A Film on Gays and Islam," New York Times, November 2, 2004). Sharma's producer is a Jewish filmmaker, Sandi Simcha DuBowski, who directed Trembling Before G-d (2001), "a feature-length documentary that two years ago investigated the lives of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who are also gay or lesbian" (Hays, November 2, 2004). DuBowski says that In the Name of Allah "challenges the idea that there are no Muslim gays or lesbians. It poses much the same question that 'Trembling Before G-d' did: why would gays want to be part of a tradition that rejects them?" (qtd. in Hays, November 2, 2004). Sharma studied film and video at American University in Washington, and it is through "listening to stories told by gay Muslims at the school" that he "conceived the idea of a picture that would 'give voice to a community that really needed to be heard and that until now hadn't been; it was about going where the silence was strongest'" (Hays, November 2, 2004).

Sharma's work in progress has already aroused controversy: "About every two weeks I get an e-mail that berates me, condemns me to hell and, if they are nice, asks me to still seek forgiveness while there is still time" (qtd. in Hays, November 2, 2004). He has had to reassure many of his interview subjects that "they will remain anonymous," though he believes that "filming people in silhouette or with their faces covered tends to reinforce a sense of shame around homosexuality": "'One young Afghan woman I've interviewed, if her family found out about her being lesbian they would undoubtedly kill her,' Mr. Sharma said" (Hays, November 2, 2004). Still, Sharma has faith in the ability of the majority of Muslims to take back Islam from "an extremely small and sometimes loud minority" who he believes hijacked it (qtd. in Hays, November 2, 2004). His film will be an important contribution to the process of recovering Islam's traditional tolerance of diversity.

While we wait for the release of In the Name of Allah, which seeks to give voice to gay and lesbian Muslims "throughout North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Egypt" (Hays, November 2, 2004), a documentary film on gay men and lesbians of Middle Eastern descent (who are Muslims, Christians, and Jews) in the United States is already available: I Exist: Voices from the Lesbian & Gay Middle Eastern Community in the United States (Dirs. Peter Barbosa and Garrett Lenoir, 2003).
Marola Massoud
"Give them all the love you can. I don't see any difference between a straight or a gay kid," advises Marola Massoud in I Exist.

Lina Baroudi
"My being queer is defined by being Arab and my being Arab is defined by my being queer. They exist together, otherwise they cannot exist at all and I know they do, because I exist," explains Lina Baroudi in I Exist.

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