Out in the Dark (2012)

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As The Bubble and The Invisible Men did before it, Out in the Dark considers the situation homosexual Palestinians find themselves constrained by, albeit with more mainstream media attention. This film, which was widely spoken about and generally well praised, centres around the story of Nimr and Roy. This feature film does indeed have many good points and I did, on the whole, enjoy it, but it does lack a certain something and can, perhaps, be accused of bias when the viewer bears in mind that its budget came from the Israel Film Fund. While this can be seen in places, it is unfair to completely suggest the film is biased. Israel is not shown in an explicitly ‘good’ light – turning away asylum seekers, dubious security forces and homophobia, are just a few negative points that come to mind. This does make the film more balanced than it could have turned out to be, but the film does still have, on the whole, a more biased view of the Palestinian Territories and plays to stereotypes.

It is difficult to tell what are stereotypes and what behaviours are based on elements of truth. It would seem that being homosexual is something less accepted in the largely Muslim Palestinian Territories, which is a trend we see across the rest of the Middle East. Considering that we see a negative reaction from Roy’s Israeli parents regarding this sexuality, the more extreme reaction from Nimr’s Palestinian family fits this trend. Here I would say the film isn’t biased and, in fact, highlights that homophobia, in varying degrees, is still a problem in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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As mentioned above we do see negative aspects of Israeli society throughout too, which points in the general direction of a largely unbiased film. However, there are certainly points in the film when the desperate need for a bias clearly couldn’t be suppressed any longer. There are certainly points in the film when Roy treats Nimr to his own special brand of colonial snobbery. Roy can be seen to label Nimr’s family as terrorists from the second he sees the report from the Israeli news channel, to name just one example. There definitely seems to be the suggestion that Roy and his family are more developed socially than Nimr’s family, which opens up a whole separate debate – mainly, is it actually vicariously Roy’s family’s fault as Israel cuts off the Palestinian Territories from the luxuries of a rich and developed state.

Moving away from any political or social bias in the director’s or writer’s stance, and looking at the relationship between Roy and Nimr, we see yet another great portrayal of a homosexual couple on screen. The film is generally quite praiseworthy in this respect and I, for one, appreciated that Roy and Nimr didn’t sleep together the night they met and the fact that they weren’t portrayed as two men who were emotionally or psychologically damaged by their sexuality.

As the film progresses the two men realise that they can’t be together in Israel, not matter how many strings Roy tries to pull. With a solution in sight, the film closes with a close race to escape. One bugbear for me was that we will never find out if either of them made their separate ways successfully, to actually facilitate their new life abroad, but in reality, if it had ended in this ‘happily ever after’ fashion then I probably would have complained about that too.

The Velvet Rage

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Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage was brought to my attention by Buzzfeed’s ’27 must have queer summer reads’ standing at number two. Intrigued I decided to buy a copy and see what the fuss was about, having done a little psychology at school made me wonder what Downs was going to discuss. I was slightly concerned about the ‘self help’-esque style, but as the Observer recommendation on the cover states The Velvet Rage is “[a] touchstone in gay culture just as Goodbye to Berlin was in the 30s…” I thought it would be worth a read.

Unfortunately, I could sense from the first page that this book was not aimed at me, and even less so, actually of interest to me. As I pushed through the first 130 pages, bemused, yet oddly willing to read on, I finally gave up, however, when I just couldn’t take any more. I finally put the book down on the commute to work as I read:

“It is rare that a gay man makes it from young adulthood into middle age without suffering at least moderate relationship trauma. The odds are stacked wildly against the possibility that even the most well-adjusted gay man would choose to be in a relationship with another well-adjusted gay man. It rarely happens. And so, two wounded men come together in what starts as a loving union and often ends in a traumatic and heart-wounding separation.”

For me, that was it. I had really tried to make it through this book, taking what was said with a pinch of salt and hoping it would somehow save itself from being hyperbolic and chronically reductive. From the very first pages, this book only talks of  gay stereotypes, focusing on ‘scene queens’, drug abuse and promiscuous sex.  The book is hugely sweeping, assuming that all gay men have a mother who ‘mothered’ too much and a father who didn’t care enough, which, for a start, reinforces gender stereotypes. It goes on to say all gay men have amazing jobs and houses and live a life of luxury. I felt as if the book was constantly trying to tell me I was damaged and could therefore never seek happiness, despite the fact that I live a perfectly happy life.

Of course, the book does lead up to a climax that I guess tells you how to live a happy/happier life, and that happiness is achievable, but this is a climax I never reached and frankly couldn’t be bothered too. After being constantly bombarded with reasons why I should feel shame and trauma, I realised the ‘happy ending’ wasn’t even worth reaching. It isn’t worth crawling through this book for a solitary chapter at the end that claims everything is going to be fine. Throughout Downs seems to be offloading his own shame and trauma onto the reader, like he has become tired of practising psychology and finally wants someone else to take on this burden.

This book isn’t only anything but enlightening, but it also risks being damaging. With campaigns like ‘It Gets Better’ striving hard to, quite rightly, tell teenagers that being gay is okay and that it does indeed get better, this book risks reversing this. I can’t imagine that a teenager struggling with his (or her, although Downs does open by explaining this book isn’t aimed anyone who identifies as a lesbian) sexuality would find much comfort in this book, unless he pushes through to the end, which if he is seriously doubting his sexuality seems unlikely. The first 130 pages (at least) would, if anything, almost reinforce the negative or confused feelings he might be having. This book doesn’t celebrate homosexuality, it promotes gay stereotypes. This book is very narrow in its target audience and doesn’t include the “entire generation of gay men” it sets out to.

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My Brother the Devil (2012)

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This film featured at the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which I unfortunately didn’t get to catch until I was back in the comfort of my own home. This film is widely regarded as a huge success, with many awards to its name and a very impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Sally El Hosaini – an Egyptian Welsh director – the story centres around Rashid (played by the striking James Floyd) and his brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) and their lives in the depths of East London. Older brother Rashid is deeply embroiled in gang culture but after a particularly harrowing innocent he takes a step back – partly influenced by Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), an affluent photographer also originally from North Africa. Mo, however, becomes more and more embroiled in the gang culture his brother has tried to deter him from for so long. The queer dynamic of this film takes a backseat and doesn’t come to light until much later in the film – something that is actually very refreshing, if a little predictable in its execution. Rashid falls for Sayyad and Mo soon discovers. An earlier line haunts the audience – “live East, die young” – as Mo gets into the gang culture too deep and this mixes with his anger and confusion regarding his brother’s sexuality.

Much like Feo Aladag’s Die Fremde (When We Leave) (2010), this film focuses on immigrant families and their attitudes and behaviour towards family members that test the limits of their beliefs and traditions. Here Rashid is struggling with his sexuality and Mo with the temptations of following the crowd in East London. In Die Fremde, Umay leaves her abusive husband in Turkey and returns to her family in Berlin and then has an abortion. Her brother’s are also involved in the criminal underworld and the violence at the end of both films holds similarities – not only in the choice of weapon, but also the fact that the victims are not the ones intended. Despite the differences in themes and setting, these films have many parallels and consider the issues (positive and negative) behind immigration and integration.

My Brother the Devil is a film that is deeply powerful and emotional. The subject matter is handled at an appropriate level without being hyperbolic or biased. Sally El Hosaini has created a fantastic account of the issues above and deserves all the praise she receives. The only question that remains is which brother is the devil and from which perspective this comes from?

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