Saturday, March 29, 2008

LLGFF: Islam and Queer Identities

The Delegates Centre at the Southbank Centre; photo by Val PhoenixThis year's festival throws up the thorny subject of Islam and queer identity with a host of films exploring different facets.

Parvez Sharma's documentary A Jihad for Love examines the conflict many queer people feel between their identity as Muslims and their queerness because of the religion's hostility to homosexuality.

From South Africa to Egypt to Iran, many of the subjects feel unsafe even having their faces shown. Some have become refugees, escaping to Turkey or France in order to live their lives. Even there, they face an uncertain future, worrying about their families and unable to resolve a conflict between what they feel and what they have been taught. A gay imam offers some hope, insisting that the Qur'an offers no direct condemnation of homosexuality, but rather a denunciation of behaviour in a specific historical situation. But many queer Muslims still feel unsure.

The Birthday (dirs Negin Kianfar, Daisy Mohr) looks at the interesting situation of transsexuals in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Because Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on sex changes, these are allowed. And one surgeon goes so far as to proclaim Iran a paradise for transsexuals. But the testimonies offered by two MTFs and one FTM suggest this is not so. Because of conservative thinking, men transitioning to women face a loss of status and their families are often embarrassed. Interestingly, the brother of the FTM says he is happy his sister is becoming a brother as it is less worry for the family. But still legality is a long way from societal understanding.

Love for Share is an intriguing feature on the practice of polygamy in Indonesia. More to the point, the practice of polygyny, as under Islamic law, a man may have more than one wife.

Using intersecting characters, Nia Dinata's film looks at three such situations, including one in which a new wife falls for one of her husband's other wives. The film depicts many comic, even farcical situations, as the wives chafe at their prescribed roles and seek to live their lives with dignity and personal fulfilment. One of the actresses, speaking after the screening, described the situation as "silly" but said many women will accept it out of ignorance or a desire for increased status.

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