Film discusses coming out in Muslim communities

On Sept. 30, the second show of the night at the One World Film Festival was ABU. It was presented by the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), and Arshad Khan, a queer Muslim filmmaker from Pakistan.

The 80-minute film follows the struggles of a gay man coming out in his community, and its impact on his relationship with his devout Muslim father, Abu. It explores themes of family, culture, religion, sexuality, colonialism, and migration.

Jeremy Dias, director and founder of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, gave the introductory speech before the film was played. He spoke about the centre’s advocacy work around LGBTQ+ issues in Ottawa.

“This film is near and dear to my heart as someone of Pakistani descent who is also queer-identified,” he said. “I find this film incredible.”

He also made note of the fact that Khan travelled to one of the schools in the city and shared his story with queer and non-queer children as part of a CCGSD program. Dias extended an invitation to the public to volunteer and be part of their fight for systemic change.

“There’s actually quite a lot of legislations we’re fighting for,” he said. “We’re trying to amend the Canadian Healthcare Act and really create systemic change in municipal, provincial, territorial, and federal levels and also within indigenous communities across the country.”

After the screening of the film, there was a question- and- answer session with Khan, which was moderated by Adrian Harewood, co-host of CBC News Ottawa.

Harewood said that the film was as much about Khan’s mother as it is about his father, and that there is an unresolved question about his relationship with her. Khan told the crowd that his mother, who only attended the film preview in Montreal, was not impressed with his creation.

“You see, I come from a culture that’s deeply obsessed with shame and with dishonour, and with what people will say,” Khan said.

Khan emphasised the concept of using what he had with very limited resources, especially since most of his siblings did not agree to be part of the film and had to be blurred out.

“First of all, I’m using a lot of archives, as I was trying to make a film really as [honestly] as possible,” Khan told the crowd. “But it was very difficult because people only capture happy moments, mostly.”

The documentary film has done very well,having received a standing ovation at its sold-out screening at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. It also won the Best Documentary Award at the  Austin Gay + Lesbian International Film Festival.

“My mother said ‘this will bring indignity to you,’ and I said I’m already very undignified in front of these people in my community’,.” Khan told the audience. “Because if you’re gay, that’s it, it’s over. But, I said this film might do the opposite.”

All in all, Khan said  that despite the personal and communal difficulties of producing the film, he wanted to do it so that issues of sexual abuse and sexual diversity would be discussed and would open up a conversation for young people that he himself did not have access to.

“I did not want to make a sensationalist film. I wanted to make an honest film,” Khan said.

Photo by Valentina Figureoa