THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL GAY DOCUMENTARY MAKES ITS WAY FROM MECCA TO qFLIX PHILADELPHIA VIA HOT DOCS TORONTO
“Islam is at war with itself, and I have fought hard not to be a casualty,” gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma told The Guardian about his controversial documentary [A Sinner in Mecca] that premiered at “Hot Docs,” the prestigious and largest documentary film festival in North America.
Sharma ought to know about being “at war with oneself” and “trying not to become a casualty” of one’s own interior conflicts as he is both openly gay and a devout Muslim. You see this documentary is neither anti-gay nor anti-Muslim.
Though Sharma is clearly daring, he’s not arrogant, or defiant, but he is determined in risk-taking by having filmed this autobiographical journey in Saudi Arabia, a country that forbids both filming and bans homosexuality that is still punishable by death.
But he has no choice in the chosen risks as he has to assume in his embarking on his hajj, the devotional pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetime.
Born in India but now residing in New York City, Sharma challenges his own personal complicated relationship with both his sexual identity and his religion, not wishing to deny either in his living in what appears, at least on the surface, to be contradictory if not impossible to pursue and resolve.
In A Sinner in Mecca, his journey isn’t simply spiritual or intellectual but moral and emotional as Sharma challenges himself in attempting to answer the question: “Is it possible for someone like him[self] to be a good Muslim?”
“I need evidence that my faith is strong enough to survive this journey,” he explains early in the film, which was recorded on a camera phone and two smuggled-in cameras where photography is forbidden at sacred sites on the hajj. Yet more example of Sharmas’ risk-taking as he not only fulfills his religious obligation of the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca but records his experience, against Muslim law, in capturing for himself and his viewers (us) a world not to be seen by non-Muslims and yet is fascinating to be presented by Sharma’s filmmaker’s eye and hand.
Why see A Sinner in Mecca? For starters, because his autobiographical struggle has a universality about it that can be identified by anyone who has dealt with issues of sexual identity and faith.
Secondly, Sharma brings back from his recording on film the story of his religion and that of countless thousands and thousands across the Middle East that has never been told quite like this before—as an insider.
Thirdly, we as Westerns are both intrigued and repelled by what we know or don’t know about the Muslim religion and way of life. And, for good reason, we are, if we’re entirely honest, threatened by its strength and power, but as a repressive set of beliefs and a strict way of thinking and living.
To say that it’s controversial, challenging, intriguing, and thought-provoking, only begins to touch upon what Sharma captures on film.
Does he resolve the conflict? Does he answer the questions? Does he return from Mecca enlightened or confused?
You’ll have to see A Sinner in Mecca for yourself and decide.