Jordanian Lesbian Character Gets A Movie Role

First off, homosexuality is not a topic that I think I’ve ever discussed on this blog and mostly because it is a topic that people seem to be so opinionated about (not to mention preoccupied with) to the extent that every conversation about it seems destined to descend in to a spiral of insults and hateful, nonconstructive comments – something that makes my job here a little harder to do. Second of all, I never really saw anything interesting or unique about the topic in the Jordanian context, especially an angle that hasn’t been tackled by either 7iber or the Arab Observer.

But that being said, I received an interesting link to an upcoming film that will be featuring a Jordanian lesbian in the leading role. And it got me thinking, is homosexuality such a big issue that in all the countries of the world, Jordan should have that “honor” of fulfilling such a role in a movie? Have I dramatically underestimated the issue, especially in how it pertains to western perceptions of Jordan? When people think “Jordan” does the word “homosexuality” pop up on the top 10 list of nouns and adjectives? Does it come after topics such as “torture” and “radicalism”? Heck, if anything, I expected a movie about honor crimes would be made before ever seeing anything about a Jordanian lesbian. Or maybe terrorism. Or perhaps the mukhabarat. Although that last one has already kind of been done.

But, c’est la vie.

I still get surprised when a Jordanian character shows up in a western film, but usually they blend in. A Jordanian Bedouin or a guy in the security forces (with a suit and menacing dark glasses). That’s the typecast of this country, and I have to admit, it kind of fits. A lesbian seems to break all the norms that even the average Jordanian wouldn’t be able to identify it as a suitable role. Ironically, this one is categorized as a comedy.

The following is a synopsis of the film (which pretty much gives away the plot; thanks Apple)

I Can’t Think Straight: Tala, a London-based Jordanian prepares for an elaborate wedding with her fiancé, when she encounters Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend Ali. Spirited Christian Tala and shy Muslim Leyla could not be more different from each other but the attraction is immediate. Tala’s feisty nature provokes Leyla out of her shell and soon both women reveal their feelings for each other. But Tala is not ready to accept the implications of the choice her heart has made and escapes back to Jordan where her chain-smoking high-brow mother finishes preparations for an ostentatious wedding. As family members descend and the wedding day approaches, simmering family tensions come to boiling point and the pressure mounts for Tala to be true to herself. Meanwhile heartbroken Leyla relishes her newly found sense of identity and self-respect and moves on with her new life – much to the shock of her tradition-loving Indian parents. Single again, Tala flies back to London – but it will take more than just a date set up by Ali and Leyla’s sister Zara to win Leyla back. [trailer]

This is actually the second film with lead lesbian characters by novelist/filmmaker, Shamim Sarif.

h/t: Natalia


  • with title you have invited the hordes of bigots and demagogues over to your space, it will be interesting to see how they react to lesbians. Maybe they like to imagine some “sexy time”. be back when the flood gates open.
    ps. before they do just to point out, the issue is like all the other social issues that face the population needs to be discussed in the open and it focuses on a single angle. so its not a matter of whether its big or not its the fact that it along with other social issues keep the eye focused on pushing for a change of the things standing against it. that’s atleast my take when it comes to placing importance of a social issue over another, they all need to be pushed at the same time so you can’t prioritize one of the other. unlike economical issues …

  • with title you have invited the hordes of bigots and demagogues over to your space, it will be interesting to see how they react to lesbians. Maybe they like to imagine some “sexy time”. be back when the flood gates open.”

    I actually gave the title more than the usual 5-second thought and that was the most direct and neutral title I could think of.

    they all need to be pushed at the same time so you can’t prioritize one of the other. unlike economical issues …

    I agree but you and I both know that’s not the way things work. Issues are constantly prioritized and in my opinion, yeah, some of them need to be. it doesn’t necessarily mean they are more deserving or deserve a better and more open debate than other things, but rather more pertinent or more urgent to the status quo. at least from my point of view.

    I’ll cya later!

  • A quick thought concerning the prioritising of some social issues over others: this reminds me of Obama’s very, very quiet rejection of Proposition 8 in California. (There’s a worthwhile article about it today on Chances are that if he’d been more vocal about being against Prop. 8 some of the undecided voters would have voted for the McCain/Palin ticket instead – perhaps enough of them to make McCain win this election.

    Sometimes not choosing between different issues means that they all lose.

    While this is clearly a problematic issue, I’d rather see small successes than no success at all because, damn it, all issues need to be pushed at the same time. I’d very much agree with Nas on this: that’s not the way things work.

  • just clarifying …. or maybe not. the idea is that there is no need for a certain group to wait till some other group achieve its rights to be able to step on the podium and discuss its issue. that’s what i meant by prioritization. In the computer world there is serial and parallel processing, all the issues are worked on by their respective people by keeping in mind the support for others when its not detrimental to their own cause (atleast candid support).
    As for the prop 8 question, not really Matt, thats simply a wrong speculation. Him declaring a stance, would have talked directly to the black constituents of california rather than anyone else that late in the race. if that reasoning is correct then he would have taken the same stance when it comes to abortion (a more divisive issue), he didn’t. the people that use that argument forget that those people were voting for obama in spite of him being black and liberal because of the economy while ignoring any other disagreement (check exit polling on issues).

  • I don’t know about lesbianism specifically, dude, but the word “GAY” definitely pops up a lot in a Western context when talking about Jordan.

    Not because of gay sex tourism (you’d think that would be it), but because there’s just something about Jordanian guys that lots of W. Europeans & Americans like. They say that many Jordanian guys are on the down-low, meaning that while they consider themselves straight, they wouldn’t necessarily pass up a romantic/sexual relationship with another man. There’s been articles about it. I used to think they were overblown and/or highly anecdotal, but the longer I talk to people, the more it seems to be real.

    From the trailer, it seems that the woman is Jordanian in an almost arbitrary sense – like, they were throwing darts at a board, and one landed on Jordan. But I could be wrong.

    Sorry if my link is going to wind up giving ammunition for the haterade-guzzlers. 🙁

  • Oh, and I forgot to add,

    Jordanian men in particular are considered to be very beautiful. They embody a certain ideal. Not just in a homoerotic sense either.

  • “Sorry if my link is going to wind up giving ammunition for the haterade-guzzlers.”

    well i’m just hoping i’ll be proven wrong about my initial assumptions when it comes to this topic

    fingers and toes crossed

  • I think that no, there is no homosexual-jordanian attachment in the perception of the west. The writer most probably had in mind a lesbian character from the middle east. Maybe he needed other attributes of being Jordanian that would help his character development.

    It shouldnt be a big deal! Jordanian lesbians exist!

  • I had to carefully think about posting because of the general tendency of some to assume the “moral” and other higher grounds when sexuality and difference is discussed. However, i decided whatever. I’m all exaggeration today.

    Nas, you’ve again opened the doors to potentially heated, hence interesting, discussion. I don’t think it’s about priority at all. It is what it is, people continue to engage in intimate relations in all shapes and forms, irrespective of economic, social or political circumstances or constraints.

    I find it amazing that we laugh without consideration to the distastefulness of the comedy of Cohn and his portrayal of an average Kazakh, yet jump the gun for this seemingly innocent chick flick. I do think it’s not a big deal. We don’t need to be defensive and explain whether or not we have lesbians in Jordan and whether they are sizable enough to make a movie on the “phenomena” or whether the film is based on a “true story” or not. All of this does not matter. It’s a chick flick on a lesbian Jordanian woman (what, have we not heard these last three words assembled together before?).

  • The only reason that might make me think it is close to comedy is the whole crazy idea by itself! Don’t you think that there are some invisible hands here! Which are trying to create some type of homosexual revolution in the Middle East or at least in Jordan? Gosh, this is hideously funny! I wish homosexuals are going to be smart enough and not start their civil-rights movement right after watching such an inspiring movie. Just stick with your country guys and girls, wait until we are in a better situation internationally, I mean you guys been in closets all of your lives, please hang in there! We will turn the lights on for you! LOL

  • LOL. I think you really missed the point this time, the producer of the film is Jordanian, and the whole story is loosely based on her and her lover (the director of the film). Her name runs in the credits and on imdb, so it has little to nothing to do with a sexual revolution (worry not ya ashraf khalq Allah!).

    It’s quite telling that whenever the word sex is mentioned people start going on bizarre rants about conspiracy theories, invisible hands and Western perceptions of us. (I think it’s about time we stopped caring about our image to the west, and start working on our issues, on our own, this typically Jordanian obsession with image has got to stop, because it bottlenecks actual improvement and enforces Western cultural imperialism).

    It tells you a lot, when we look at the way we approach sex, especially female sexuality. I agree that sex has been politicized, and has been served for cultural penetration, but still, I think as Arabs we are in need of a conscious sexual revolution, because at the end of the day, it is a physiological need that needs to be fulfilled. I bet that our productivity would hike up if people got laid more often (not that they don’t, it’s just that it’s hard to go about it I suppose): A happy person is more likely to be more productive, check Maslow’s pyramid for visual aid.

    Natalia, I find your assumptions quite problematic. First of all, check out the infamous “Orientalism” for more on exactly what you are talking about. Second of all, can you deny that the West also has several gay and lesbian men and women who are also on the down low? I think that the reason why people on the down low in Jordan are more prevalent is because in Jordan, sex has a lot to do with socioeconomics and social classes (unfortunately), meaning that the upper class and middle classes can get away with a lot of things that Jordanians in rural areas cannot get away with. Mash the two classes together, and you’ll get men on the down low. That is exactly why most of the people you are referring to are taxi drivers, army and police forces, truck drivers, etc.

  • What assumptions, PH? I was telling you what people tell me, when the whole subject of homosexuality and sexuality in general comes up in regards to Jordan. Yes, Jordanian men are orientalized, even more so than Jordanian women are (Norma Khouri’s little “memoir” notwithstanding), and sex has a lot to do with it. I’ve been with a Jordanian man for over five years, and the sheer amount of jealousy gay men express when I speak of him tells me all I need to know.

    If you were to tell me that Ukrainian women are sexualized, I would only nod along. Because we are. I live with that reality every day.

    It’s not anything shameful – unless of course people use that as an excuse to demonize another human being.

    And I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with being on the down low, nor did I imply that this is somehow an exclusively Jordanian phenomenon; but even if it was, so what? It’s very prevalent in the American South, and quite frankly, if that’s the way people want to live their lives, nobody has the right to judge them.

    Being gay or being bi is hard enough.

  • It might be a hot topic at least. Police cracked down some homo conventions as quoted once by mainstream media. I used to hear a lot about few specific gay people in a conservative discussion of course. Lately, I got to see gay people more often. So yes, its growing or getting more into the public.

    It can be argued that social evolution precedes better economics or that developed or stable economics enables smooth social development and can gain less opposition in a change resistance society. I am in favor of economic development as grounds of true evolution and accurate representation of social realities.

  • Matt: “Sometimes not choosing between different issues means that they all lose.”

    well put.

    observer: “It shouldnt be a big deal! Jordanian lesbians exist!”

    who said they didnt?


    LOL. I think you really missed the point this time, the producer of the film is Jordanian, and the whole story is loosely based on her and her lover (the director of the film). Her name runs in the credits and on imdb, so it has little to nothing to do with a sexual revolution (worry not ya ashraf khalq Allah!).

    ah, that makes sense. so it wasn’t a dart board. thanks for the info PH.


    It can be argued that social evolution precedes better economics or that developed or stable economics enables smooth social development and can gain less opposition in a change resistance society.

    I would argue that not all revolutions are necessarily evolutions. Case in point, what has happened to our economy in recent year can be categorized as a bit of a revolution, but many would argue that an evolution it is not.

    mohanned: i think i’ll get the opposite of what i’m looking for!

  • Well, my jaw dropped!! But, come on! This is not something I will personaly worry about. It’s just a movie. At least, this is how I want to think of it.

    But to be honest, I wasn’t very shocked with the lesbo idea as much as I was SHOCKED by the perception Natalie is talking about!!

    Jordanian guys are “generally” potential homosexuals!! This one freaks me out!

    I once had a discussion with an australian lady, and a fellow arab guy. She was so shocked to know that if it so happenned that there was one king size/queen size bed in the apartment and two arab guys want to sleep, they will usually have no problem sleeping next to each other in their boxers. He justified that by saying that we are very secure about our sexuality that such silly things don’t really draw our attention. I agreed.

    She also had a problem with arab guys kissing each other “on the cheek that is” when greeting each other. And we’d joke about it by saying that i can kiss my friend 100 times and it wouldn’t bother us!

    We actually had an unwritten code in my university in jordan. When we meet, we kiss each other 4 times!! one on one cheeck, 3 on the other. Can any of you relate to that? 🙂

    This might be the reason!!.

    Anyway, I hope this is the extent of it. Otherwise I’m going to start probing everyone’s heterosexuality when I’m back in jordan!

  • Well, I don’t think that there is a potentially homosexual guy/girl, I simply think that the guy/girl is or is not homosexual, I think only a very few number of people BECOME, if any. Potentially definitely is something we could be discussing while we are waiting for the newly born, in the lobby of the hospital I mean.

    Back to the movie. It is just that I am afraid it will make it harder for people to believe that this is something that could be happening here, in Jordan, ya3ni,a genuine Jordanian story, they’ll think that the couple (from india and Jordan) have been “exposed” to western ideas…Not that such a story happened, happens, and will happen in Jordan and everywhere.

    Anyway, what do I know myself! … Thanks for the post.

  • first off, the movie does look funny if taken at face value.

    second, the director isn’t jordanian.

    third, my biggest problem is with the exoticism of middle eastern and india (brown) women in western culture. every stereotype of brown women are present: sultry, mysterious, and obedient sexual partners. in popular culture, having a couple of sexy ladies making out on screen claiming to be knocking down the wall of oppression surrounding women, even more specifically brown women, is a specific example of orientalism in its most pure form.

    i have no doubt the director was aware of all this. but i find the fact that is was so explicit in the trailer, that the tactics of the movie are to attract that popular cultural follower and as a by-product, re-enforce the stereotypes that are destructive for women and all brown folk.

    *when i use brown folk as opposed to white folk, I mean everyone except those of european descent, thus expanding “oriental” to include those in africa and s. america too.

  • okay now that i read more about the film, it does sound like it has a political message…and it sounds interesting.

    the director Shamim Sarif is not Jordanian, but the film producer (who is also her partner) is Jordanian. Hanan Kattan. And the movie is loosely based on their life.

    What is also interesting about this movie is that the entire production team is only women.

  • It would be important to remember that lesbians in Jordan do exist, not because they’re a result of a corrupt West, but they just do exist.

    I just hope they won;t shoot the movie in Morocco

  • story of the movie been done before 10 times, will get u the name cant remember now but i saw an identical movie with an indian-US girl instead of jordanian-indian…i think its a flash in the pan and just a quick route to fame, make some $$, and win awards (any middle eastern film about sex, homosexuality, criticizing hijab, or islamic socalled repression of girls automatically wins 10 european awards, and i can name you a dozen movies like that, but make a movie about palestine and see how many people abroad will care….)

  • Congrats, 26 non-name-calling comments of fairly constructive dialogue!! I almost didn’t come back and check, but it has been extremely instructive.

    I don’t get how they got a PG13 rating with the theme.

    LOL Hareega, ‘hope they won’t shoot the movie in Morocco’. Or use Italians for Jordanians. But if they do film here, I hope it is under the radar for the furor that could erupt. (Or is it a done deal?)

  • Wala eshi el takhalouf. Dude, Londoner, what part of “the lady is telling her own story” did you not get? She’s the producer (meaning that she financed the film), and has set up a small production house to create films that MIDDLE EASTERNERS can relate to. If anything, the lady is trying to set up a Middle Eastern example of a lesbian girl, facing problems that Arab lesbian girls face (such as being pressured to wed, getting engaged and then breaking it off last minute).

    Obviously, Arab directors haven’t had the guts to provide such Middle Eastern examples (the few films that did, such as Deil el Samaka and Amaret Yacoubian, provided the stereotypical trashy examples), so the lady has taken the matter into her own hands and decided to go about this production on her own. The same goes to Sukkar Banat, or Caramel. Labaki wanted to create a film (although the production was all too European, which I didn’t like, but it was financed by the European commission after all) that stems from the reality that many Arab and Lebanese women face in their daily lives (such as hymen restoration, lesbianism, relationships out of wedlock, etc.). You cannot deny that these are actual portrayals from society, and because there has been so little talk about such people in society, the creative elite comes in and deconstructs these social norms. This is exactly what art and films and music do, they are supposed to be provocative and ground-breaking, else they’d be trashy, boring, bland and commercial. They cover the gaps in which the media does not shed light on, or deal with controversial issues that have received little attention. I think that films should not cater to the masses, instead, it should challenge the masses.

    Why does it seem so hard to respect this? I think that we should be proud of this, after all, finally there is a film by us, and about us, and tackling issues that concern us.

    As to Natalia’s post, I must say respect for Rumzi’s reply, because it does address what I was trying to say about sexualizing Arabs and its role in Western cultural imperialism. To address the matter quickly (which is what Said tried to address in Orientalism): The West, especially Europe, has always deemed as Arabs as vulgar and repugnant, especially during Medieval times, because we allowed for women to receive education, we had libraries that were accessible to the public, while the Europeans were still pissing in rivers. Now, Europe views us as backward and repressive, because we have different social values and views regarding sex.

    One could say that this contradiction is a result of Europeans becoming more progressive, but it is not just about that: It is about this Western idea, that we will always be beneath them, and that they are socially and culturally superior, therefore they need to interfere in our problems and issues, to “teach us how to deal with them”, you know because we’re stupid and just “look pretty”. (NOTE: when I say Europe, I mean Europe as a collective political force, and not referring to the population, or lumping its population all in one).

    Whereas, America (as a political entity) believes that it has a right to interfere into our issues, because America believes that because it has political hegemony, it has the right to control the resources of the world. So Europe thinks in a more “we are socially progressive, therefore we must control you”. While America thinks “because we are politically and economically progressive, we are worthy of your resources more than you”.

    Anyway, so what’s wrong with the West sexualizing Arabs, and Africans and South Americans as well? because these societies are “mysterious” and “intriguing”, the West views the products of these societies, as sexually intriguing, therefore, it diminishes their roles from being productive and cultured products, into merely sexual objects. By using the already existing stereotypes, the Europeans are fulfilling their sexual fantasies through us.

    That is why there is a lot of sex tourism in our region, and the problem is, that they choose to sleep with only the people that resemble and carry these already existing stereotypes, such as taxi drivers, or labourers, because these are the individuals that fit into their exact idea of what it means to be Arab. (repressed, hairy, dark, filthy, simple, etc.) And any Arab person that doesn’t fit into this stereotypical image is deemed as “Westernized”, it is like saying: “There can never be a clean shaven and intelligent Arab on his own, he has got to be influenced by the West”.

    This does have a lot to do with political desires and colonialism, because the East has always been viewed as the weak female, that needs to be protected and sheltered by the masculine Western “male”. Based on that premise, the West “raped” this Eastern female, and colonized it. Thus, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, colonized the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.

  • Nasim,

    our economy has changed but it did not get better yet, it is probably reflexing on major gaps caused by the pre-revolution or the pre-change era.

    Its way far from being a driver of social evolution.

  • “I mean you guys been in closets all of your lives, please hang in there! We will turn the lights on for you!” – ha ha ha ha!

  • As specifically done by members of the Asian community in the UK, or by Jordanians themselves; some people’s claims to fame just strike an oddity, that I find real shallow. Usually used as a short-cut to having an award stacked on a shelf somewhere. These artistic and entertainment experiments lack the spirit, the facts or the beat of the original culture.
    Jordanian lesbian rights as a priority in a country where people don’t have a right of way on the roundabouts just yet!
    Where on the economy pages of the local paper (take Al-Ghad as an instance) you will find the prices of tomatoes, next to top economical headlines. Somebody really care about the prices of tomatoes in this country, they do! Where else in the world does it appear on the local paper?
    I mean, art is welcomed, but if art is not a response to an actual problem, a single voice of the masses, then it’s just an award stacked on a dusty shelf somewhere!
    If someone found a single flower in the desert, and decided to water and nurture it every day, leaving the rest of the desert, and some other came to him and wondered why would he leave the rest of the desert just to nurture this flower, is “ so we can say we have a flower in the desert” a suitable answer, I wonder!

  • guys ,,

    if you have a lesbian sister what are you going to do for her ?? kill her ( yallah we have another senario for new movie lol guys !!! she is a human ,,

    the movie her spotting the lights on something exist in jordan you wont to believe or not yes we have it gays and lesbians simply they are humans !


  • I’ve read Said, PH, thanks. I personally think some of Said is actually pretty overrated, but some of it is expressed right there in our daily lives.

    Funny how you seem to assume that I agree with the stereotyping. I live with daily stereotyping myself, so I don’t pretend that it’s easy for anyone (Arab men approach me for sex all the time, after all, that’s what I exist for, right?). But I also don’t let it reflect on me. I acknowledge it as one more facet of existence, here in the Middle East, or in other places.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong or shameful when talking about the subject. Or is it just that you have to use the right jargon and strike the right pose in order to be able to discuss it?

    You seemed to take offense when I spoke of the down low lifestyle – do YOU think there is something repugnant about it? You never told me. ‘Cause personally, I don’t think so at all. But, see, I wouldn’t want to *assume* anything about your views on the subject.

    Now, Nas asked the question – “When people think “Jordan” does the word “homosexuality” pop up on the top 10 list of nouns and adjectives?”

    And I answered.

    This is the reality.

  • “I mean, art is welcomed, but if art is not a response to an actual problem, a single voice of the masses, then it’s just an award stacked on a dusty shelf somewhere!”

    I forget who said it, Lass, but there used to be a sentiment that the only real poetry (or is it music?) that can exist is the squeaking of the wheels of the cart bringing bread to the needy.

    It’s a powerful statement, but I disagree completely.

    Art should be allowed to exist for art’s sake. It doesn’t mean it can’t do the parallel job of addressing an individual problem or a societal phenomenon, but it also needs to be allowed a space beyond this.

    Have you ever read Nabokov’s Lolita? A very beautiful book about a very distressing subject, and one of the main arguments of it (perhaps the only argument?) is that there ought to be something as simple as beauty without any grand idea attached to it.

    It may sound really pretentious, but I think Nabokov had a point. He was a pretty privileged guy, but he also survived some horrible stuff. But this was the argument he came back to in his greatest work nonetheless. And I’ve always thought that there is a lesson in there, somewhere.

    Art that tries to be too didactic and obvious just fails. Utterly. Well, imho, anyway.

  • Natalia,
    I have read Lolita! What an amazing piece of literature; although realistically it is a memoir of a pedophile! None the less; we are talking Russian culture; an amazingly put together journey of spirit, thought and collective memory.
    What is Jordanian culture?
    Although I haven’t seen the movie, nor the trailer; I don’t think it will speak much about or contribute to a collective memory about Jordan.
    If hearing Dmitri Shostakovich’s second waltz can tell you something about Russia, I hope that there will be something that can tell me a little about Jordan as well, that’s art!

  • There is homosexuality in every society. I believe that every minority deserves representation. Circasians produced a Jordanian movie about Circasians in Jordan. They’re a minority. Do they not deserve to be represented?

    Plus, among my circle of friends (in Jordan), sometimes it happens that I am the only straight person in a group. So, yeah, you’re totally missing something in Amman, and not only in Amman, in Aqaba, in Irbid, basically, homosexuality is everywhere. The reason you weren’t aware of it, is because people tend to hang out with like minded people. So, you probably hang out with other heterosexual people who do not acknowledge diversity in our culture.

    The reason I’m commenting is because I’m reviewing a novel with some homosexual references, written by a female Lebanese author in the late 1980s. And I just thought I would google the Arab take on lesbianism, and your blog was the first link google provided. By the way, there’s another Jordanian production on lesbianism written by a Jordanian female. It’s called “Grey” you should check it out.

Your Two Piasters: