The first gay in Arab cine-world: a homosexual star in a Moroccan movie

Published September 6th, 2013 - 11:54 GMT
Abdellah Taia’s's "Salvation Army"  (Image courtesy of France 24)
Abdellah Taia’s's "Salvation Army" (Image courtesy of France 24)

It is the Arab Spring of cinema as in the summer of 2013 the Middle East welcomes its apparently first gay protagonist to the film scene through director Abdellah Taia’s movie "Salvation Army."

AP reports that the Moroccan film writer-director Taia has been out of the closet since 2006. He is no stranger to making a scene - already the first Moroccan to declare his homosexuality in the public arena in 2006—in a country where gays can face prison -  he made quite the splash the year after when his face was the cover of a newsmagazine that ran with "Homosexual, Against All Odds."

'I am totally aware of how this subject is taboo in the Arab world," Taia said speaking from Venice, where his film was showcased at the festival. AP reports that the film was set in Morocco, but not without resistance. 

"I do go to Morocco and they do allow me to enter," Taia said. "If they do something to me, it is a risk for them, too."

In spite of any Muslim or Arab backlash risked, he has braved the spheres of cinema and literature to talk about it. Taia has published novels – including “Salvation Army” from which the feisty film is adapted.

Being accepted with accolades by the literary and cinematic community has spurred him to act the spokesman for the gay lesbian societal debate. 

Poor and Gay in Morocco

Says AP's interview piece - "Salvation Army" draws on Taia's own life growing up 'poor and gay' in Morocco. The protagonist, Abdellah, disovers his homosexuality from an early age and must come to terms with how to live his identity in a country where his sexual orientation is not accepted officially (though there is a gay scene). 

Taia believes in the Arab Spring's impact on societal progress, including for homosexuals. He points to the creation of an Arabic language website for gays in Morocco and the fact that a neutral word for homosexuals now exists in Arabic: mithly.

He hopes his film, with its first gay Arab star, will be another force for change.

"Maybe this film will help some gay and lesbian Arab people face reality and have some support," Taia said. "I think this is the right time as well to free homosexuals in the Arab world and not forget that they are Arabs as well."

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