Actor Sam Abbas embodies the will and courage required by one to identify with his/her own individual sexual identity while living in a conservative society that discourages homosexuality and encourages strict societal norms.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Sam grew up in a family that deeply values a heterosexual identity, in line with Islamic cultural setup.
In an interview to OUT, Sam Abbas says: “I was ingrained with a lot of traditional ideas about sexuality, sex before marriage, drinking alcohol, and all these things, I had this huge internal struggle of how culture and religious offerings were affecting myself even though I wasn’t religious.”
Sam’s discovery of his sexual identity began when he left for college and began sexually experimenting. His underlying guilt often creeped in as he failed to understand the importance of being confident in himself while living in an LGBTQ-reclusive environment. In his debut film, “The Wedding”, Sam seeks to present the struggles people go through to please their desires and expectations of the society.
The story of the feature film revives around Rami, a Muslim man who is set to wed Sara but is unable to fix a date due to his contradicting sexual beliefs. This gives rise to confusion within Rami, not out of rebellion but sexual frustration about not receiving adequate education on sex.
Sam also elaborates the commonality in contradiction between Sara and Rami by saying: “[Sara is] also doomed into this wedding because she’s not religious either, but she’s born to think she has to have anal sex rather than vaginal sex so she can remain pure. So for her, the wedding is very much the same for Rami, a saving moment where they could potentially give in to what the culture expects of them and then in secret they do what they want.”
Due to stricter censorship laws in the Middle East, the screening of “The Wedding” was not allowed. Sam narrates the situation in Egypt where people from the LGBTQ community are harassed using debauchery laws for choosing something that is natural and beyond human control. Due to religious and moral stigma surrounding homosexuality in the Middle-East, Sam was prevented from attending ‘secret screenings’ of his own feature film for the safety of himself and others. In order to prevent people from talking about it, the viewers were mandated to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the screening.
Sam further adds in context of the strict self-imposed viewing regulations: “Some of them may seem very tough, but it’s the only way for us to ensure that people are safe or they could end up in jail or severely harassed.”
Sam in his interview to OUT, encourages others to tell their own stories within the LGBTQ community, celebrating differences in ethnicity within the Middle-East.
As the film premieres in the United States, Sam is optimistic that the American audiences are more respectful of differences in opinion relating to sexuality and some of the struggles that queer individuals are dealing with throughout the Arab world at large.
Sam Abbas’ feature work also represents the birth of a more vocal and confident LGBTQ community and signifies the first step towards acceptance of homosexual rights in the Middle-East, despite religious contradictions. The film would seek to educate people to respect basic sexual rights of individuals to usher into a modern society that also respects its Islamic Traditions.