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.



Above: James Floyd and Fady Elsayed in My Brother the Devil.

Was it important for you to avoid including stereotypes often associated with gay men?
Absolutely, because it was important to me that these characters be as real as possible. So in terms of developing the character Sayyid, the person Rashid ends up with, it made sense to have him be someone who challenged Rashid. If Sayyid had been a different kind of person, it may never have happened between them. It was more of a challenge for Rashid to meet a homosexual man who was Arab, was fine with his sexuality, and was still, in Rashid’s eyes, a masculine guy. Plus I was excited to have an Arab gay character who didn’t have a problem with his sexuality.

The London riots broke out when you began filming. What effect did that have on the production?
The day we were testing the camera for the first time was the day the riots broke out in Hackney. When that kicked off right in front of us it brought to life for me the need for understanding why there’s a lot of disenfranchised youth in the U.K. I think any film that attempts to represent their lives in an honest way is important because it helps others to understand them rather than stereotyping them.

What’s been the most rewarding part of telling this story?
There have been a few, but one of the best was listening to a person who’d seen the film tell me his real life was very close to the character of Rashid and it meant a lot to see his experiences depicted in the film. I was touched to have him share that with me. I realized we’d made something that resonated with people and made them think and that made me feel like it was worth going there.