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 a list of Arab films that tackle the stories and experiences of LGBTQIA people. This list is updated annually!
Oriented (2015) dir. Jake Witzenfield
Palestine / Documentary / 86 min
Oriented 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. This film won the Esperluette Award for Best Documentary at the Rencontres In&Out festival in 2016.
In Between (2016) dir. Maysaloun Hamoud
Palestine / Drama / 103 min
In Maysaloun Hamoud’s directorial debut, she tells the story of three Palestinian women living in Israeli society struggling with being accepted and deviating from the expectations of their culture. Lalia (Mouna Hawa), Salma (Sana Jammelieh), and Nur (Shaden Kanboura) are roommates living in Tel Aviv. Lalia, a criminal lawyer who likes to party after work, has found love with a modern Muslim man who can’t quite accept all sides of her. Salma, a DJ and bartender faces a difficult moment as she comes out as gay to her traditional Christian family. Nur is a college student who observes Islamic tradition and moves in with Lalia and Salma to be close to the university. When her conservative fiancé visits, however, he is threatened by her liberal roommates, and pressures her to move back to marry him immediately. All three women must learn how to accept themselves in the face of mounting pressure from their loved ones to conform.
I Exist (2003) dir. Peter Barbosa & Garret Lenoir
United States / Documentary / 60 min
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. This film won Best Documentary at NewFest: New York’s LGBT Film Festival in 2003.
The Wedding (2018) dir. Sam Abbas
United States / Drama, Romance / 75 min
Rami, a young Muslim man, is preparing for his wedding with Sara while fulfilling a queer sexuality in secret due to a strict religious and cultural upbringing. Sam Abbas’ new film Alia’s Birth, is slated to release this year, though the premier is delayed due to COVID-19. You can read more about it at The Hollywood Reporter.
The Wedding is available to stream on Revry.
I Can’t Think Straight (2008) dir. Shamim Sharif
United Kingdom / Drama, Romance / 82 min
This romance story, which 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.
Out Loud (2011) dir. Same Daboul
Lebanon / Drama, Comedy, Romance / 102 min
This film is a powerful and bittersweet tale of friendship and love in Lebanon, a nation that has been plagued by civil war for decades and where nontraditional relationships and ideas are reacted to with violence and hatred. Jason, an innocent young Lebanese man, befriends five free spirited young wanderers, who, like himself, are lost between traditional morals and their new generation beliefs in what is truly right. Their taboo alliances and out-loud statements result in tragedy and heartache, but in the end their commitment to one another and to a life of tolerance and equality allow them to persevere with the hope of creating a world in which bigotry and discrimination are a thing of the past. Out Loud is the first film from Lebanon with a gay theme that sets a new standard for cinema from the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.
My Brother the Devil (2012) dir. Sally El Hosaini
United Kingdom / Drama / 111 min
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.
Room for a Man (2017) dir. Anthony Chidiac
Lebanon / Documentary / 77 min
This biographical documentary follows the filmmaker, Anthony Chidiac, a young man who shares a Beirut apartment with his mother and pet dog. In the film, he sets about reconstructing his identity by renovating his bedroom. But as the male construction workers come and go in the freshly embattled household, new questions, old arguments and unexpected passions get stirred. Watch the trailer.
A Jihad for Love (2007) dir. Parvez Sharma
USA, UK, France, Germany, Australia / Documentary / 81 min
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”. This film was awarded the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary 2009 and it is part of First Run Features’ “The Human Rights Watch Collection”.
A Sinner in Mecca (2015) dir. Parvez Sharma
Saudi Arabia / Documentary / 79 min
For a gay filmmaker, filming in Saudi Arabia presents two serious challenges: filming is forbidden in the country and homosexuality is punishable by death. For filmmaker Parvez Sharma, however, these were risks he had to assume as he embarked on his Hajj pilgrimage, a journey considered the greatest accomplishment and aspiration within Islam, his religion. On his journey Parvez aims to look beyond 21st-century Islam’s crises of religious extremism, commercialism and sectarian battles. He brings back the story of the religion like it has never been told before, having endured the biggest jihad there is: the struggle with the self.
Salvation Army (2013) dir. Abdellah Taïa
Morocco / Drama / 81 min
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.
Chronic (2017) dir. Mohamed Sabbah
Lebanon / Drama / 89 min
Beirut is a city where any person can experience loss at any moment. Walid lost his hope for love. May couldn’t say goodbye to her lover. He died in the sea. Antoine was about to lose his own life. Omar a photographer lost his male lover in an explosion. He casts the three and invites them to his studio, and together they express stories of sex, love and trauma in the city of Beirut. Visitor after visitor, chapter after chapter, Omar loses control and provokes danger. Watch the trailer.
All My Life (2008) dir. Maher Sabry
Egypt / Drama, Romance / 119 min
For Rami, 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. Watch the trailer.
Out of Iraq: A Love Story (2016) dir. Chris McKim & Eva Orner
Iraq, USA / Documentary / 81 min
In 2004, Ramadi was the most dangerous place on earth and the last place anyone would expect to find love. But that’s what happened between an Iraqi translator Nayyef who works for the US and Btoo a solider in the Iraq army. They face persecution, and possibly death, if they stay in their homeland. After obtaining a visa, Nayyef leaves his love behind, settling in Seattle with a determination to one day reunite with Btoo in a place where they can express their love freely and without fear. Watch the trailer.
I Am Gay and Muslim (2012) dir Chris Belloni
Morocco, Netherlands / Documentary / 59 min
This intimate documentary follows a number of young Moroccan gay men in their exploration of their religious and sexual identity. The men portrayed in the film openly share their personal experiences and talk about the ambiguity and secretiveness of the life they feel condemned to live, although some have openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. Watch the trailer.
This Little Father Obsession (2016) dir. Selim Mourad
Lebanon / Hybrid Documentary / 93 min
Selim’s sister has passed, making him the last child of his family. At a time when the traditional family house is set for demolition, he faces his parents with his sexuality and tried to convey meaning to his existence. Watch the trailer.
The String (2009) dir. Mehdi Ben Attia
Tunisia / Drama, Romance / 93 min
This film 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.
Here I Am…Here You Are (2017) dir. Raed Rafei • AFF 2017
Lebanon / Documentary / 68 min
Raed Rafei’s film unfolds as a virtual road trip navigating between Italy and Lebanon. Conditioned to live in a long-distance relationship with his partner because of strict European visa regulations, the director patches together the moments shared together in an attempt to create a possible day-to-day reality for their couple. Watch the trailer and read our interview with Raed Rafei!
Martyr (2017) dir. Mazen Khaled • AFF 2018
Lebanon / Drama / 84 min
The strange drowning of a young man at Beirut’s seaside sparks a mob funeral and causes his friends, who hail from different communities, to grapple with loss and with the struggle to participate in his community’s rites and ceremonies. The life and death journey that the young man takes on the last day of his life exposes the schisms of the city and the fault lines dividing its society, and reveals some of the forces pushing the lives of those marginalized young men. In Islamic tradition, drowning is considered grounds for Martyrdom. What does that word really mean? Is it an effort to console a bereaved family and preclude its grief? Is it an empty attempt by a marginalized group to evoke heroism and mythology in order to compensate in death for what they never achieved in life? In this film, raw verité images intermingle with abstract scenes to present us with a world where the lines separating reality from fiction, authenticity from fabrication, have ceased to exist.
The Beach House (2016) dir. Roy Dib
Lebanon / Drama / 75 min
The Beach House is a film about four people from an Arab generation roaming over the ruins of ideologies, causes and virtues of their predecessors. It portrays their intellectual and emotional nonchalance about what is happening around them in their daily lives and relationships. In a house whose architecture is a sixties’ experiment in mixing modern and Islamic architecture, a stone and concrete cube suspended over a rocky shore bashed by the waves of the Mediterranean, by famed Iraqi architect Refaat Chaderji, we spend a night with four characters whose non-stop conversations and peculiar actions reflect the void and chaos they are living in.
Label Me (2019) dir. Kai Kreuser • AFF 2019
Germany / Drama / 60 min
Waseem is a Syrian gay-for-pay hustler seeking refuge in Cologne. For him the rules are very clear – No kissing. No passive penetration. When Lars pays him for sex there’s a mutual understanding that Waseem’s “just in it for the money.” On the one side a refugee living in a shelter trying to eke out a living and on the other the wealthy German with a loft apartment – the differences between the two couldn’t be more apparent and yet both are connected by a sincere interest in each other. Their relationship is rooted in a constant flux between dominance and longing for closeness which unfolds amidst a playful power struggle revealing their inability to hide their fears and longings from one another and their failure to keep up their carefully constructed facades. While both struggle to uphold the labels in their head, their growing friendship starts to pose a real threat within the reality of Waseem’s refugee shelter.
Half a Life (2017) dir. Tamara Shogaolu
Egypt / Animated Documentary / 12 min
After a traumatic encounter, a young, gay Egyptian joins the LGBT rights movement. When his safety is jeopardized, he must choose whether to stay in the country he loves or seek asylum elsewhere as a refugee. Half a Life is a timely story of activism and hope, set in the increasingly dangerous, oppressive, and unstable social climate of Egypt today. This film is part of Queer in a Time of Forced Migration, an animated transmedia series that follows the stories of LGBTQ refugees from Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia across continents and cultures. Watch the trailer.
Another Dream (2019) dir. Tamara Shogaolu
Egypt / Animated Documentary VR / 20 min
2019 / ANIMATED DOCUMENTARY VR / 20 MIN.
Another Dream, a hybrid animated documentary and VR game, brings the gripping, true love story of an Egyptian lesbian couple to life. Faced with a post-revolution backlash against the LGBTQ community, they escape Cairo to seek asylum and acceptance in the Netherlands. An accompanying installation allows audiences to reflect on what they have seen, heard, and felt in VR. This film is also part of Queer in a Time of Forced Migration. The next project is the series, The Call Me Asylum Seeker, is currently in development. Watch the trailer for Another Dream.
Breaking Fast (2015) dir. Mike Mosallam
United States / Comedy, Drama / 18 min
Mo, a practicing Muslim living in West Hollywood, is learning to navigate life post heartbreak. Enter Kal, an All-American guy who surprises Mo by offering to break fast with him during the holy month of Ramadan. As they learn more about each other, they fall in love over what they have in common and what they don’t. A feature length version of this story, by the same name, is slated to release this year. Make sure you check out our interview with Mike Mosallam too!
Brothers (2018) dir. Mike Mosallam • AFF 2019
United States / Drama / 9 min
Brothers is a coming-of-age short film-music video hybrid that follows a Muslim Arab boy as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Upon recognizing that he is different through the lens of his family and society as a whole, he decides to face his fears with the support of an older brother who stands by him and encourages him to be himself, in the face of bias and adversity. Watch the teaser.
Life In Darkness (2018) dir. Ali Raheem
Iraq / Drama / 8 min
Laith, a 22 year old male wakes up on his birthday in Mosul, Iraq, only to have problems with his boyfriend, Mohanad a 27 year old male. Mohanad believes that Laith is cheating on him with a girl and a fight erupts as Mohanad storms out of the apartment only to rush back as he sees ISIS have taken over the city and raid the apartment block.
3 Centimetres (2018) dir. Lara Zeidan
Lebanon / Drama, Comedy / 9 min
In the oldest fun park of Beirut, four young friends go on a Ferris Wheel. During this claustrophobic open-air journey, they touch on intimate subjects such as relationships and sex, but Suzie’s breakup advice for Joanna leads to an unexpected confession. Check out our interview with Lara Zeidan as well. Watch the trailer.
Run(a)way Arab (2018) dir. Amrou Al-Kadhi
United Kingdom / Drama / 12 min
Nazeem is a 26 year old Middle Eastern drag queen who names herself Queen Za Dream – she is preparing for a show with the utmost gravity, with an outfit evocative of an Egyptian deity. Interwoven with this is the story of Nazeem as a genderqueer 8 year-old boy, and the close bond he has with his Iraqi-Egyptian mother, Halima. Whilst flamboyant and in many ways a drag queen herself on the surface, Halima is governed by the strict expectations of gender in Arab society. When a young Nazeem transgresses these boundaries, Halima reacts in a way that is utterly confusing to him. Only though his drag, is the adult Nazeem able to keep sacred the memories of his mother before this painful moment, and hold on to their connection. Watch the trailer.
Son of a Dancer (2018) dir. Georges Hazim • AFF 2019
Lebanon / Drama / 20 min
Majed, a 20-year-old man, is grieving the loss of his recently deceased mother. One day, he gets the shock of his life when he learns that she used to be a belly dancer. Torn between his relationship with his now-silent father, and Hanine, the woman who will help him overcome his grief, he takes a trip down memory lane in an attempt to discover the mysterious past of his mother. Watch the trailer.
Ablution (2017) dir. Omar Al Dakheel
Marco (2019) dir. Saleem Haddad • AFF 2019
Lebanon, UK / Drama / 22 min
Omar has been living in London for a decade. He spends his days working in the City, and his nights ignoring phone calls from his family back in Lebanon. One evening, restless after another pleading voicemail from his mother, he reaches for his phone and invites over Marco, a Spanish student newly-arrived in London, who’s doing sex work to earn some extra cash. But when Marco arrives, Omar can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right about the young man. As their night together progresses truths are revealed, defenses are lowered, and Omar discovers the lengths that Marco has gone to reach London.
Marco is available to stream on YouTube.
Dearborn Ash (2018) dir. Hena Ashraf • AFF 2019
United States / Drama / 9 min
Dearborn Ash takes place in the midst of the Arab-American enclave of Dearborn, Michigan, Roshan has moved back to her parents’ house in Metro Detroit after many failed years in NYC. With her OCD in overdrive she meets up with her old college friend Ayman during Ramadan. He disrupts their iftar plans, however, and Roshan finds herself having to deal with all sorts of characters who take over her car. The night turns out to be full of surprises – some annoying, and some wonderful.
Dearborn Ash is available to stream on Vimeo.
The Sun Will Rise (2018) dir. Mehdi Hajri
Tunisia / Drama / 36 min
Omar and Bahri, old friends who share their desires, troubles, and love, see their everyday life troubled by the arrival of a student, Sonia, ready to do anything to achieve her goals.
Check out our list on Letterboxd so you can all all these films to your watchlist.
What are your thoughts on these films? Did we miss any of your favorite queer Arab films? Let us know in the comments!
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