Unveiled: A Balanced Portrait

Among many events in Madison this week raising awareness about Islam and Muslims was the film, Unveiled, hosted by UW-Madison’s International Student Services and the LGBT Campus Center. The film (Fremde Haut in German), directed by Angelina Maccarone, follows Fariba, an Irani woman seeking asylum in a small, industrial German town. Following the discovery of Fariba’s love affair with a married woman in Tehran, the Irani government threatens to prosecute her for her relationship, which is illegal under Iranian legal code. Fariba’s lover begs forgiveness and swears under oath that she will change and is freed, but Fariba decides to leave Tehran for good.

As the story progresses, Fariba ends up working undocumented in a dingy cabbage factory on the edge of town. Seeking permanent refuge in Germany, she steals the identity of a deceased man. It isn’t until later in the film that a fellow female co-worker whom she is courting finds out about her hidden identity and sexual orientation.

Aside from an excellent screen performance from the Iranian-German actress and musician, Jasmin Tabatabai (Fariba), the film presents what is probably an accurate interpretation of Iranian women seeking exile because of their sexual orientation. At one point in the film, Fariba performs aspects of a traditional Muslim burial (wrapping the young man’s body in a white sheet and praying for God to accept him on judgment day), but her Muslim identity is not the central focus of the film, nor is her sexuality. Unveiled artfully presents the viewer with a realistic story that explores issues of human rights, love, and relationships. Unlike some films that explore homosexuality and Muslim religious identity (Jihad For Love), Unveiled’s focus away from Fariba’s Muslim background provides the viewer with a perspective that sees Fariba through a “non-Muslim lens.”

Western films involving Muslim characters seem to frequently fall into the “Look! They’re Muslim” trap, preventing viewers from exploring a character’s personality or other qualities that make them unique. Unveiled takes a different course and by avoiding the trap tells an engaging and enlightening story of an individual.

One thought on “Unveiled: A Balanced Portrait

  1. What a complex subject. I watched “A Jihad for Love” but did not find it to be an insightful discussion of homosexuality within Islam (besides the brief discussion that the Imam from South Africa began to delve into with his community towards the end of the film). Maybe that wasn’t the purpose of the film. However, it did do a great job of portraying the story of homosexuality within Islam in the voices of those experiencing it firsthand. What films such as “Unveiled” and “A Jihad for Love” do is to serve as reminders to treat people kindly. There are so many stories of suffering in our world, and the plight of homosexuals, particularly within a religious context, is heartbreaking. And imagine if you’re Palestinian and gay – double whammy. Chinua Achebe wrote, “For whom is it well, for whom is it well; there is no one for whom it is well.” It takes courage to be compassionate, to listen, and to reach out in support, especially when you may most fervently disagree with another’s views/practices.