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Focus on Queer Middle East: The Amina Profile

Focus on Queer Middle East: The Amina Profile

amina
Photo courtesy of SundanceNow Doc Club

Three new documentaries reveal precarious, uncertain, and inscrutable queer existence in Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

While on the cusp of revolution, Syrians searched for Amina, a young lesbian abducted by her govenment. But Amina wasn't real.

When Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, a gay Syrian-American blogger and activist, was reportedly abducted by government forces in Syria in 2011, the international community took keen, almost obsessive, notice. Spurred on by the tireless efforts of her Canadian girlfriend, Sandra Bagaria, to secure media coverage, Amina's was the perfect human-interest story. An openly gay Muslim woman in the Middle East whose blog, "A Gay Girl in Damascus," documented the early stages of the revolution in Syria, she became the progressive face of what the Arab Spring was trying to accomplish.

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But there was a problem: Amina didn't exist. Her online persona was, in fact, created by a middle-aged, straight white American man from Georgia.

In the documentary A Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile, filmmaker Sophie Deraspe teams up with Bagaria to unravel the twisted series of events in this strange saga. "This is a film, and we're at about the 20-minute mark," Deraspe recalls telling Bagaria in 2011. "More has to come." At the time of the conversation, however, Bagaria was far from ready to get involved. She had just been the subject of one of the most widely reported cases of "catfishing," and the public reveal of Amina's true identity had left her deeply humiliated. Her early pleas for help found answers in the State Department, NPR, The Guardian, Amnesty International, and a number of individual activists, many of whom diverted their attention from the real atrocities being committed in the country. Duped herself, Bagaria had unwittingly dragged many along with her.

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The film, now available via the Sundance Now Doc Club, serves as a warning in this Internet age, but it is also a powerful tribute to the people fighting for liberty in Syria. "I knew it was going to be a lot about the contemporary world," Deraspe says, "about sexual identity, the media, how we connect with each other romantically and across cultures, but I didn't expect to learn the impact it had on Syrian people. I didn't know that actual Syrian people had been looking for Amina, that they had exposed themselves, revealed themselves to the authorities by actively trying to help a woman they thought was in danger. The Amina affair, it hurt a lot of people."

Watch the trailer below:

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