In Lebanon, where there is no despot to oust, the Arab Spring takes shape in the struggle for social change.
On October 25, “Out Loud,” the first film about homosexuality in Lebanon debuted in a New York City theater.
The film could not be finished or shown in Lebanon. It was blocked by a government censorship committee earlier in October. The producer and his team of actors took a great risk in staging the film inside the country. At one point, an armed group of civilians protected the production from intense harassment. The Out Loud team had to finish the film in the U.S. to escape threats on their life.
However, over five million Lebanese expatriates, who outnumber the residents in the home country, will be able to see this provocative film. A pervasively unstable political climate (sectarian power sharing, economic hardship, a militia culture and corruption in governance) has driven many Lebanese to seek freedom and opportunity abroad.
A New York Times review was polite in suggesting that the film “bleeds with sincerity.” Other reviews were blunt in pointing out that the script is not well coordinated and the characters are undeveloped.
The photo accompanying the NYT movie review – two young males exchanging an affectionate embrace – might shock many and sober a few, especially Middle Easterners.
“Out Loud,” which was directed by Samer Daboul, depicts the agony of being gay in Lebanon, a small Arab country with immense social contradictions. The showing of this film will stimulate public discussion of a highly sensitive subject.
In most Arab societies, international news on changing attitudes and laws on homosexuality seem to be falling on deaf ears. Sexual norms in the region have been tightening over the past few decades, since the resurgence of religion-based, political fundamentalism.
This is not to say that homosexuality has been totally suppressed in the Mideast. In fact the strict separation of the sexes in public space is likely to widen the prevalence of covert homosexuality.
Homosexuality in the Middle East faces harsh religious, cultural and legal sanctions. But in Lebanon, which is often considered to be the “social laboratory” of the Arab World, there are subtle signs of tolerance for limited manifestations of the gay lifestyle. In Beirut, gay bars do exist, despite prohibitive laws and occasional busts by the police.
This adventurous cinematic work is not a documentary on gay liberation. The subject is much wider. The story deals with post civil-war idealism and angry youth who are thirsty for social and political change.
The film is about discrimination against homosexuals and about systems, which drive a community of perfectly normal people, to live the life of abnormality. It is about inducing fear and guilt in the minds and souls of thousands of children who are not born heterosexuals. It is about the infliction of criminality, religious damnation and bigotry. It is about undermining the “Lebanese laboratory.”
Honoring the human rights of any minority group is celebrating human diversity. The aspirations of the Arab Spring will never be met without the integration of social reform with political rebuilding.
“Out Loud” may be a contribution to the thematic diversity of the Arab Spring.