Better the Devil You Know

Filmmaker  Sally El Hosaini advances visibility of gay Arab characters in debut feature My Brother the Devil, which had its New York release on Friday.



Sally El Hosaini
Sally El Hosaini

Iconic gay arab characters are a rare find in cinema today, but filmmaker Sally El Hosaini aims to change that with her award-winning debut feature, My Brother the Devil.

The film tells the story of Mo (Fady Elsayed), a high school student from a traditional Arab family, and his older, charismatic brother Rashid (James Floyd), the leader of a notorious east London street gang.

Though Mo idolizes his brother and the gang lifestyle, Rashid wants his younger sibling to steer clear of a dead-end life on the streets and instead focus on his studies. Desiring to escape the gangland life himself, Rashid accepts a job offer from a kind photographer named Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui) and the two form a relationship that quickly escalates from friendly to physical. When Rashid begins to distance himself from his friends and family to keep his love affair a secret, Mo seizes the opportunity to fill his brother’s shoes and begins going on drug runs for the gang behind Rashid’s back.

My Brother the Devil is a fresh take on the familiar coming-of-age tale that examines the depth of prejudices, family loyalty, and what it means to be a man.

While the movie currently rolls out across cities in the U.S., El Hosaini spoke about her inspiration for the film.

What inspired you to tell the story that became My Brother the Devil?
Because I’m half Egyptian, I really wanted to put heroes on screen who were Arab, weren’t terrorists, and were three-dimensional characters. Arabs really don’t have any sort of iconic representation in cinema, so that was one of the things I really wanted to do. But the storyline came from a mix of my own experiences and the time I spent researching the many boys who inspired the movie. During my research I got to know a lot of gang members in London and see this macho culture up close. That’s when I began to construct this narrative of someone exploring their sexuality within this alpha male, homophobic environment.

Why did you feel you needed to include the exploration of sexuality within a story about what it means to be a man?
It allowed me to make a film about prejudice as a lager concept. Because it’s seen through the eyes of Mo as well as Rashid, the journey they both go on makes it much more than a coming-out story. To me, the more interesting part of the story was whether or not family could overcome prejudice that was so entrenched.