Entertainment » Movies

Mr. Gay Syria (Outfest)

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 11, 2018
'Mr. Gay Syria'
'Mr. Gay Syria'  

The concept of anybody being brave/foolhardy enough to publicly come out as a gay Syrian is tough enough to get one's head around, but the very idea that there is such a thing as a Mr. Gay Syria competition is beyond belief.

Yet, that's the subject of the Turkish filmmaker Ayse Toprak's first feature documentary. Most of the action takes place in Istanbul, as this is where a small group of gay Syrian refugees have escaped to. Life is still not easy; as illegal immigrants they have no rights and cannot legally work, but this is better than returning home and facing ISIS death squads.

The competition is the brainchild of Mahmoud Hassino, who lives in Berlin and works with LGBT refugees. He wants to highlight their plight by getting an official Syrian entrant into Mr. Gay World 2016. His larger aim: He wants the world to know about living gay Syrians, not just the dead ones.

The film starts with a handful of contestants as they prepare for the event. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie as they bond, and despite the occasional bout of hesitation they are all remarkably upbeat and confident. Omar, a slightly tubby chef, has an infectious sense of humor and is always jolly, even though his live-in boyfriend is about to legally emigrate to Norway, having been awarded precious United Nations refugee status, which is tough to come by.

Just as a reminder: Although Turkey is, in comparison to Syria, a haven for them, it is still a repressive homophobic regime - as witnessed when the police use brutal violence to break up a peaceful gay pride march.

23-year-old Hussein, another of the contestants, has one of the saddest stories. During the week he lives as an out gay man working as a barber in Istanbul, but at the weekend he takes the bus to the suburbs, where he lives with his wife and child and his conservative parents. For his "talent" part of the competition, he performs a monologue about how he would come out to his mother if he could. It brings the teary-eyed crowd to their feet with wild applause, clinching the winner's tiara for him.

That turns out to be the easy part, as the Mr. Gay World competition is being held in Malta and they refuse to grant Hussein a travel visa. It is extremely disappointing, but not nearly as bad or dangerous as the summons he suddenly gets from his father to go home one day. Accompanied by Mahmoud, who hangs by close at hand in case the confrontation gets out of hand, Hussein complies. His parents demand that he deny rumors that he is gay; Hussein is lucky this time, and escapes with his life.

Mahmoud decides to go to Malta and represent Hussein as Mr. Gay Syria, but he is soon very disappointed. What he had hoped would be a perfect arena to promote the plight of gay Syrians on an international stage turns out instead to be no more than a harmless beefcake competition without a single member of the media in sight.

But whereas the competition fails to provide Mahmoud and his small group the exposure their cause deserves, this compelling documentary should be a useful tool - if it can reach the global audiences it deserves.

Finally, Toprak leaves us on a high note (for at least a couple of the guys). Hussein's wife decides to go back to live with her own family, presumably freeing Hussein of the obligation for him to visit his parents that often. Otto gets good news, too, as he is finally accepted into the United Nations Refugee scheme and can legally go live safely with his boyfriend in Norway.

As long as there are still places on earth where just being LGBT can get you killed, we need to continually share their stories. There is no better place to start than with this one.

Mr. Gay Syria

A teenage baby sitter journeys to a fantastical world of goblins and other magical creatures in Jim Henson's adventure-filled film ``Labyrinth,'' starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.


Runtime :: 85 mins
Language :: Silent
Country :: Turkey


Director :: Ayse Toprak
Screenwriter :: Ayse Toprak
Producer :: Ekin Calisir
Producer :: Christine Kiauk
Producer :: Antoine Simkine
Cinematographer :: Hajo Schomerus
Film Editor :: Nadia Rachid

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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