A Lesbian Tale: Challenging Syrian Censors

The series portrays women who have been raped by their fellow inmates in women’s prisons and a large segment of the story will be about about lesbians. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Wissam Kanaan

Published Sunday, April 22, 2012

Syrian censors do not allow the realistic portrayal of homosexuality – or that which reflects society’s prejudices – in Syrian drama productions of any kind. All attempts to show them on screen have faced the threat of a ban or cutting specific scenes.

The justification has always been that there are lines which cannot be crossed in television dramas, which are broadcast into every home. But the ban also extend to filmmakers, whose work is also subject to censorship.

Some screenwriters used to circumvent the censor, showing “homosexual” characters without explicitly saying so. The director would simply portray them in a way that implied they were homosexual.

This is what Najib Naseer did in the television series Behind Bars, directed by Allaith Hajjo. It portrayed a rich lesbian woman who tries to become close to a poor young girl. Fuad Homaira dealt with the issue of transsexuality in Hot Winter, directed by Firas Duhni, in a similar manner.

But the efforts of young Syrian dramatists today seem more courageous and mature than those of their predecessors, moving away from stereotypical characters.

A young journalist, Buthaina al-Awad, is writing a television series in 30 episodes based on the her extensive fieldwork with several media outlets. She decided to dedicate much of her work to speak about unfulfilled sexual relationships.

The series portrays women who have been raped by their fellow inmates in women’s prisons and a large segment of the story will be about about lesbians. But it is too soon to speak of this experiment and evaluate it while it is still being written.

The young director, M.K. Diab (Muhammad Khair Diab) recently made a short film titled A Lesbian Tale. He made it in English because he knew in advance the censor’s opinion on these sensitive matters.

He had already made two similar films (Human Kind and Hell On Earth) and they were both banned in some Arab countries, including Syria. A Lesbian Tale, which is a love story between two girls, is even more brave.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Diab says, “The film is a love story between two girls, focusing on their suffering in a society which does not accept their love.”

“Furthermore, religion prohibits such relationships, which has it consequences for each of the girls. All this is in ten minutes of music and drama,” he explains.

When asked why it is in English, he says, “I tried as much as I can to make the film sensual. The way it is filmed is very expressive. I tried not to be direct. But the Arab censors have already made up their minds.”

“Simply, to speak about two lesbian girls in an open way will definitely result in censorship. This is something that cannot be resolved, no matter how we try to circumvent it because we are offering a short film based on the story of two lesbians, so I had to do it in English,” he continues.

Diab says that he did not run the idea by or offer the roles to famous Syrian actors. He decided that the roles should be played by young actors. The lead went to Rojina Rahmoun, Dima Hachicho, and Issa Saleh.

He finished filming a few months ago and it is ready to be screened, but mainly outside the Arab World. But he says he “wanted it to be screened in Syria before anywhere else.”

Diab made the film out of his own money. Nevertheless, he says it has a bigger budget than that of any Arab short film.

As expected, A Lesbian Tale started a debate on websites and social networking sites even before it was screened.

But it seems that Arab censors, particularly in Syria, will keep their eyes firmly closed to any changes taking place around them. They will carry on fighting to keep mouths shut and to stifle any artistic work which has courage to speak about sex.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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