Home Islam “It’s not against Islam”: a Pakistani trans actor recounts his deep sadness at the ban on filming | Global development

“It’s not against Islam”: a Pakistani trans actor recounts his deep sadness at the ban on filming | Global development


A transgender star of an award-winning Pakistani film which depicts a love affair between a trans man and a trans woman has said she was very sad at the government decision to ban the film and hope that this will be reversed.

Alina Khan, who stars in Joyland, the first major Pakistani film to feature a trans actor in a lead role, said: “I was very sad. There is nothing against Islam [in the film] and I don’t understand how Islam can be endangered by mere movies.

The 24-year-old added: “The Pakistani trans community was also very upset.”

Joyland, who is Pakistan’s Oscar nominee, was due to be released nationwide on Friday, but was banned over the weekend following pressure from extremist Islamic groups who called the film “disgusting”.

Set in Lahore, the film tells the story of Haider, a married man who joins a dance troupe and falls in love with the lead transgender dancer, Biba, played by Khan.

Khan told the Guardian she adores Biba.

A poster for Joyland, designed by Pakistani artist Salman Toor. Photograph: Courtesy of Alina Khan

“She’s a badass, strong-willed, fiercely independent, domineering and outspoken woman, everything I’m not; I loved the role I played,” Khan said. When offered the role, she was relieved that she was not playing an “oppressed” character “which is the life of most transgender people in Pakistan”.

Khan said she was rejected by her family when she came out as trans. “My family didn’t accept me, but neither did society.” She was told that she was embarrassing those close to her and her mother was constantly angry with her. “She was telling me not to make exaggerated hand gestures like a woman while talking, to sit like a boy and not to be around girls,” Khan said. His siblings called him khusrah – a pejorative term, which was originally used to refer to eunuchs but which is also an insult against trans people. But as Khan said, “I had never met a transgender [person] in my life, so I didn’t know what they looked like.

Joyland has been hailed on the festival circuit. It was the first Pakistani film to be selected as an official Cannes entry in May, winning two festival awards and receive a standing ovation in a packed Debussy room.

“Tears were streaming down my face as I continued to smile. I don’t know if the tears were for joy, were for all the hard work I put in, or for my struggles since I was a child and which continue” , said Khan, who made his screen debut in the short film darling in 2019. “For the first time in my life, I felt that my talent preceded my gender, I was given so much respect.”

After such international success, his family welcomes him with open arms. “They finally accepted me. They realized I didn’t earn by begging or doing sex work,” she said.

In August, Joyland won Best Film from the Subcontinent at the Indian Film Festival in Melbourne, last month it received the top prize at the Zagreb Film Festival and it is Pakistan’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at next year’s Oscars, which received Nobel Laureate Support Malala Yousafzaiwho joined the film as executive producer.

However, the film had sparked controversy at home. Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, a senator from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, called Joyland “cultural terrorism” and criticized the government for the “brazen” act of allowing his release. “I condemn him and will use all legal measures to prevent Joyland’s release,” he said. “Glamorizing transgenders in Pakistan, as well as their loves, is a direct attack on our beliefs.”

Alina Khan, left, with Joyland director Saim Sadiq.
Alina Khan, left, with Joyland director Saim Sadiq at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2022. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He is spearheading a campaign to repeal the law of 2018 which consecrates transgender rights in Pakistani law.

Canceling the film’s license, which casts doubt on its Oscar claim, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said: “Written complaints have been received that the film contains highly objectionable material which does not comply to the social values ​​and moral standards of our society and is clearly contrary to the standards of ‘decency and morality’ as set out in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979”.

Shahzadi Rai, a rights activist from Karachi, was not surprised by the ban. “Of course it was planned. We are heading towards religious extremism. I think soon Pakistan will become another Afghanistan. The trans community is extremely disappointed that the government bowed to religious pressure.

She added that Alina Khan had “put us in the right direction in the mainstream”.

Lucky Khan, a trans singer, said seeing such a film win awards was awesome. “I had only seen our community begging in the streets, dancing or doing sex work.”

Merub Moiz Awan, a trans woman, tweeted: “If a cisgender woman or man in place of Alina Khan had played the role of a khwajasira dancer, they would have had no problem with that. But because it’s a real khwajasira in doing so, they have problems. They want khwajasira people are just begging in the streets.

The international success of Joyland brought Alina Khan other cinematic proposals. “I would like us to be more visible in showbiz because we are an integral part of society, like men, women and children,” she said, adding, “This movie deserves an Oscar…it deserves all the rewards.

“I hope I have opened doors for others in our community to pursue their dreams.”