Synopsis: Amina Arraf, an attractive Syrian-American revolutionary, is having an online affair with Sandra Bagaria, a young, brilliant and well-informed Montreal professional. Amina then launches her provocatively named blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus.
As the Syrian uprising gains momentum, the blog acquires a huge following. But it’s Amina’s subsequent abduction—carried out in broad daylight in downtown Damascus, allegedly by the Syrian secret police—that sparks an international movement to save her from torture, rape or even death.
The Amina Profile’s stunning cinematography mixes feminine sensuality and revolutionary fervour, immersing viewers in the Middle East as they join her on the trail of an elusive quarry. Examining desire and the notion of true connection, it explores the gap between self and other, fantasy and authenticity.
eyelights: the intrigue at the heart of this film.
eyesores: the limited scope of the investigation. the gratuitous nudity.
‘The Amina Profile’ is a Canadian documentary on Amina Arraf, the lesbian blogger who wrote about the political chaos in her homeland of Syria on “A Gay Girl in Damascus”. As viewed through the eyes of her online lover, with the input of various reporters and supporters, the picture explores the repercussions of her disappearance on June 6, 2011, when videos of her abduction surfaced.
Arraf’s kidnapping made international waves and caused much controversy, and ‘The Amina Profile’ does a good job of putting the pieces together, providing the audience with a good overview of what transpired before and after that incident. For people not already familiar with the story, it’s an eye-opening exploration of the power of the internet to reshape our reality and perceptions.
For people who have already heard of Amina Arraf, the movie merely concretizes what is already known. It also humanizes the participants by putting a face to those who were affected the most: Sandra Bagaria, Amina’s online lover, and Tom MacMaster, the American author who was at the center of all the controversy. It documents their hopes, dreams, disappointments and eventual heartbreak.
Personally, I found ‘The Amina Profile’ good but lacking. The first problem was that a friend of mine wanted to see it and gave me an in-depth briefing on the picture, revealing some of its shocking secrets before I could stop her. I had already heard of and read about this incident years ago, but had forgotten much since, being more focused on federal matters than international ones.
In any event, ‘The Amina Profile’ is a picture best viewed with no foreknowledge of Amina Arraf; it is a picture whose intrigue will stun anyone going in cold. I would highly advise anyone who likes documentaries and sociopolitical issues to simply go see the picture with some friends, and to set aside some time afterwards to discuss the implications of what they have just seen.
And to stop reading this blurb now, lest they find out more than they should.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
As much as I found the intrigue utterly engrossing I had issues with the film’s construction. Right at the onset, director SophieDeraspe chose to show us a model in her underwear undressing slowly. This gratuitous nudity, although very much appreciated from a heterosexual male perspective, seemed pointless to me. Perhaps by being blurry, Deraspe wanted to suggest Amina’s online identity.
Plenty of other footage also seemed random to me, more like filler than actual connecting tissue. Further to that, this material was clearly taken from online sources, given that much of it was digitized and blocky. Perhaps the material wasn’t random, and this is why the quality was poor – Deraspe might have had limited sources. However, if random, better material should have been picked.
There was also a limited number of participants in the film, with maybe six to ten recurring ones. In some ways, it made ‘The Amina Profile’ seem more like Bagaria’s personal perspective, seeing as she was by far represented more than all the others. But the picture is not called ‘The Bagaria Profile’, and I think it befell on the Deraspe to provide a broader perspective on Amina Arraf.
Even if she isn’t what she appears to be.
The key problem to me is that some of the participating journalists say that they failed to check their sources when they were reporting on Amina Arraf, taking for granted that their few sources were credible, but the documentary does exactly the same thing. It doesn’t really lay out these people’s credentials for us to see and it doesn’t ensure that their claims are supported elsewhere.
A perfect example of this is when they uncover that Amina Arraf was not only the creation of a man, Tom MacMaster, but that he had unknowingly been flirting with another fictional woman online; not only was she fiction, ironically, she also was a man. But ‘The Amina Profile’ doesn’t spend any time exploring the identity of this other person, nor the intentions and the impact of this “relationship”.
Deraspe also doesn’t bother to explore the psychology of MacMaster, who lead this dual identity for years and lied to the world at large while under scrutiny. There is subjective suggestion that he was sociopathic, if not psychopathic, but it would have been essential to discuss how anyone could get caught up in such a gross fabrication and carry on with it for as long as he did.
There’s also the matter of MacMaster’s credibility. Having lied consistently for so long, how could anything he says be believed? This is also not explored. He allegedly spent three hours a day just texting/emailing with Bagaria, plus he blogged more than once a day, plus he had a life… When did this guy sleep? Could he have had help? Is it possible that more than one person was involved?
Similarly, his spouse is left in the background, even though surely she must have known that something was up, given all the time and effort involved in creating this cohesive online identity. MacMaster claims she only found out twenty minutes before he announced it to the rest of the world but, to me, it seemed like a pathetic attempt at protecting her. This claim was never fact-checked.
MacMaster now says that he was trying to put a spotlight on a situation that he felt needed to be discussed. Interestingly, some of the participants responded resentfully that they already have a voice and don’t need his help. They were never challenged on this, even though it’s clear that this was merely their egos talking: in any time of oppression, victims usually want help, not isolation.
In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder who benefits from this story being told. Doesn’t this merely discredit future folk heroes, rendering us more jaded? I don’t mean to be conspiracy-minded, but since most of the claims in this documentary aren’t fact-checked, it leaves sizeable enough gaps that one could believe that Amina existed, has been whisked away and has since been erased.
It would be the best way to avoid someone’s martyrdom.
Just a thought.
But the most important questions that come out of ‘The Amina Profile’ is what is a relationship? Are online relationships, when people never meet, valid? And, what is Love? Is feeling Love all that matters, or is context important? Must you know someone in person for Love to have any credibility? And, finally, do we really know anyone? Even in person, how well do we know those in our lives?
After all, people only share certain parts of themselves, and can only be truthful about themselves when they know themselves well enough. And yet most people don’t really know themselves that well; they merely go through the motions and never really explore why they live the life they live, the values they choose to live by, act the way that they do. So how well can we know them, really?
Isn’t almost everyone a bit of a mystery, no matter how hard we try to peel the layers?
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
‘The Amina Profile’ is an interesting documentary. While it doesn’t entirely succeed at laying out all the facts of the case, and its perspective is slightly skewed, it raises important questions about the world we live in now, in the internet age. With everyone supposedly connected, the world has opened up wider than ever before. But in effect it has opened avenues we haven’t even begun to discuss.
For all its lapses, this film is a great conversation starter.
See it. Discuss it.
Date of viewing: May 1, 2015