For most of us, coming out of the closet means facing social and family barriers, which most of us eventually succeed to overcome. Yet for most people in the Middle East, coming out of the closet almost inevitably translates as coming out of the country. Either that or being murdered, as homosexuality is mostly perceived as some sort of contagious disease for which the only solution in death.
This documentary follows the footsteps of Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami from the days when they met in a US military camp in 2004 in Iraq (following the American and British led invasion of the country), through their struggle to stay together and to leave the country, all the way to their marriage in Seattle (in the US). Nayyef worked as a translator and had a university degree, which helped his entry to the US. On the other hand, Btoo was denied refugee status several times, and he fled to Lebanon, where he lived in a limbo for several years waiting for an application with UN Human Rights Commission to be approved. Nayyef and American human rights lawyer and activist Michael Failla supported him throughout his dangerous predicament. Btoo only left the Middle East when a gay Canadian vice-consul lent him a hand, and so he moved to Vancouver.
The resilience of the love between Nayyef and Btoo is remarkable. They never gave up hope, and they communicated daily and several times through Skype throughout the years they were apart. Nayeef had a giant wallpaper with a picture of Btoo right next to his bed. The two men remained an integral part of each other’s life during the ordeal, constantly emphasising that they have a physical, emotional and spiritual connection. Many gay westerners have become desentitised to love by the vast availability of channels for relationships (night clubs, phone apps, etc), and they may find it difficult to relate to such an epic and profound relationship. Out of Iraq is a refreshing reminder that such vigorous and long-lasting love does indeed exist.
Westerners viewers may also find the kitsch aesthetics of the film a little unusual. The images are often doused in plush colours, the two lovers sometimes appear with a shining pink aura supported by piano notes. At one point the face of Btoo appears in the sky. This is not a problem per se, as such devices are more acceptable in Middle Eastern cultures and it’s natural that the filmmakers vouch for authenticity, it may just cause a little alienation to viewers used to more sophisticated visuals.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the military background of the two lovebirds constitutes an instrument of pinkwashing and a lame excuse for the invasion of Iraq. This is not entirely true. The movie reveals that US refugee policy is not a walk in the park, and that was long before Trump came along. Concerns that Btoo may have witnessed torture in Abu Ghraib (and therefore became a whistleblower) prevented his consecutive applications from succeeding, in a further testament that Americans weren’t so supportive at all.
Yet towards the end of the movie Nayyef does literally fly the American flag, oblivious to the fact that the US caused the war that destroyed his country. He does, however, recognise that gay men enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein (he studied Fine Arts, wore tight and sparkling clothes and had many gay relationships in university) than now. Ultimately Btoo and Nayyef embrace the American dream and settle in the much coveted land of the free. Their journey has many similarities to America, America (Elia Kazan, 1963), in which a Middle Eastern man dreams of reaching the US at any cost, and despite so many adversities.
Out of Iraq is showing as part of the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival. Very significantly, the film was introduced just a couple of hours after that the terrorist attack outside the British Parliament. Before the film, the event staff rightly noted that she not point fingers at each other and let such events divide us, and that we should instead promote love and diversity. Click here for more information about the Festival, and don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: