Arab film directors tackle gender taboos on big screen

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02/11/2022

A Lebanese director who has just scooped up an award at Sundance Film Festival says she wants her short to “break the norms” on sexuality and gender in the Middle East. “Warsha” is part of a new wave of Arabic-language films – some screened abroad, others showing on streaming platforms – to confront long-standing taboos in a broadly conservative region. The movie, which is making the rounds at top film festivals this year, revolves around Mohamad, a Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in the Lebanese capital Beirut, who escapes reality by conjuring up fantasies about a life in drag. Last month, it won the prestigious Sundance award for best international short fiction film, joining a string of movies that move past the tropes of conflict and religion to explore what lies beneath the region’s tight social constraints. The 15-minute production contains almost no dialogue, but Lebanese-Canadian director Dania Bdeir said her message comes through loud and clear.

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