An intimate journey into a gay activist’s life in Cairo. Interview with Director Tamara Shogaolu
By Musa Al-shadeedi
HALF a LIFE is a short animated documentary that pairs the intimate narration of a young, Egyptian gay activist with a highly stylized animation, bringing the streets of Cairo to life through this firsthand account. He shares with us a traumatizing encounter that prompted him to become a gay-rights activist in the increasingly unstable, dangerous and oppressive current social climate in Egypt. My.Kali spoke with Director Tamara Shogaolu to get an depth information on the LGBT situation in Egypt, and how her film Half a Life is addressing them.
Who are you targeting in your film, and why?
I made the film with the intention of raising awareness for LGBT Issues in the Middle East. Many of my close friends were facing pressure to leave and were feeling unable to continue their activism work in Egypt that I felt a need and urgency to make this film in hopes of getting this story and the other challenges and realities faced by LGBT people in Egypt and in many parts of the middle east to the forefront.
The film shows the double jeopardy imposed by the society and the government on the gay community, who do you think is more dangerous?
I don’t think it’s possible to separate the government from society in this case. I think in the case of Egypt the scariest thing is that the government is trying to influence society by using the LGBT community as scapegoats. Homosexuality is being villainized in public. This was seen in the recent case of murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni who was villainized in local Egyptian Arabic language by the mention of saying he associated with homosexuals like it somehow justified what happened to him.
Where did you get the statistics shown in the end of the film? What is the nature of dealing with that entity? (Is there trust, help, reliable source ….),
We go the statistics from Bedaya and LGBT organization in Egypt collecting information and statistics related to the LGBT community. I think they are very reliable, and we double checked with other human rights organizations statistic and it matched. Additionally, it has been reported by major news sources like CNN etc.
What is the purpose of presenting the subject of revolution in the context of the film?
The current political situation is directly related to the revolution. I lived in Egypt before and after the revolution and experienced the changes that came about from it, especially in the openness of people to talk. People were much more open with sharing their perspectives and discussing politics, something not seen under Mubarak. This wave of homophobia and LGBT attacks is a direct backlash from the revolution. The government has accused revolutionaries of being homosexuals in a continued effort to vilanize subversive movements. We felt it as necessary to include the revolution because it gave context to the current situation.
What is your upcoming work?
We are now working on a VR Film follow up to Half a Life, this one focuses on the cousin of the main character (also gay) and her experience with seeking asylum in the Netherlands, in the current climate of the refugee crisis in Europe, what happens when you feel no choice, but to leave your homeland.
what are your stances no homosexuality in Egypt, be in a film, a novel, an article… ?
I feel like LGBT communities are facing much discrimination at the global level. In the Middle East, in the US, or in countries like Indonesia where many of the things taking place in Egypt have started to happen. I think that people should be free to love whomever they want to love, and that who they love shouldn’t determine how they are treated in society.
Do not you think that presenting the idea of immigration is a bit dangerous, as if we are saying that you can not be both an LGBT and Egyptian? And that the only way to live a happy life is to migrate to the West? Thus encouraging homosexuals to migrate and leave their homelands?
I think it is an extremely hard decision to feel like you have no options but to leave your country and everything that is familiar to you to feel safe. I don’t think this film is promoting emigration from Egypt or the Middle East to Europe or the US. We actually left out the part that says that he got asylum in Europe because the film focuses on the challenges of living in Egypt as an LGBT person and the situations that would push someone to make such a difficult decision.
Half a Life Facebook page
(English below ?) رحلة حاسمة في حياة ناشط مثلي الجنس في #القاهرة – #مصر. مقابلة مع مخرجة فيلم ‘نصفُ حياة’ تمارا شوغولو.الرابط في معلومات الصفحة ☝ فوق. #ماي_كالي_بالعربي An intimate journey into a gay activist’s life in #Cairo – #Egypt. on Half A Life – An Animated Documentary. Link for English version, available via our site, twitter and Facebook.