Moroccan director Maryam Touzani hopes her latest film, shortlisted for an Oscar, will provoke “a healthy, much-needed debate” around LGBTQ rights and challenge taboos in the conservative country.
Morocco fairs better than most MENA countries in how it treats LGBT people, although there is still a long road ahead. In April of this year, at least 50 to 100 gay men were outed, rights activists say, after the men were identified on location-based meeting apps while sheltering at home amid a coronavirus lockdown.
In at least three cases, men were kicked out of their houses, L.G.B.T.Q. activists said. In interviews, many others in the country said they had been blackmailed and threatened, and thousands fear that their photos will be spread on social media.
A Moroccan director hopes that her film will put an end to such treatment.
“The Blue Caftan” tells the story of Halim and his wife Mina, a couple who make and sell traditional robes in one of Morocco’s oldest souks.
Their relationship is rocked by the arrival of a handsome young apprentice — and Halim’s attraction to him.
“I hope the film can contribute to nurturing a healthy, much-needed debate” about same-sex relationships, Touzani told AFP in a telephone interview.
“It pains me to see people living hidden away, in fear, with their love suppressed, denied and judged.”
Touzani’s second full-length work was among 15 shortlisted for the International Feature Film category ahead of the Academy Awards, with nominations set to be announced on January 24.
“It’s a huge honour to represent Morocco and to carry the country’s colours at this stage of the competition,” said Touzani, 42.
She noted an official committee had chosen her film as the kingdom’s Oscar entry — an unexpected move in a country where consensual same-sex acts are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
Laws in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa can be even stricter.
“The fact that my film is representing Morocco is a step forward in itself,” Touzani said.
“The symbolism is beautiful and strong — it shows a desire for openness and dialogue.”
“The Blue Caftan” is set in Sale, a “picturesque city next to the capital Rabat” according to AFP.
It features Palestinian Saleh Bakri as Halim, Belgian actor Lubna Azabal as Mina and Moroccan Ayoub Missioui in the role of Youssef, the apprentice.