Forbidden Love: A look at religion in LGBTQ+ films

14th November 2018

Chilean director Sebastien Lelio returns with an equally passionate endeavour Disobedience, a follow up to his mesmeric Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman, about a trans woman who after the sudden passing of her older boyfriend, she is rendered powerless by his family. In Disobedience the characters played by Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola, all at the top of their game, find themselves in a love triangle in a deeply religious Jewish Orthodox setting where religious dogma predictably subjugates same-sex desire.
Religion is a theme frequently explored in LGBTQ+ film. An unsurprising fact since the majority of Abrahamic religions traditionally ban sodomy and same sex relationships believing them to be sinful, an abomination. Apart from recent exceptions within some Christian and Judaic denominations, the situation remains dir, with religion still holding great influence on many parts of societies around the world. The detrimental knock-on pychological effect on LGBTQ+ individuals is unquestionable. Individuals are usually either ostracised or repress their natural inclination or even take their own lives as the only means of escape.
This state of struggle has provided fodder for many writers and directors wanting to tell their own or others' stories using the medium of film. Inspired by Lelio's Disobedience here at Candid we looked at numerous examples of LGBTQ+ movies which features themes of burgeoning gay love in hostile religious environments. From the plethora of films we had to choose from; we have shortlisted them down to six recent-ish releases.
Eyes Wide Open
Released in 2009 Eyes Wide Open is the debut by Israeli director Haim Tabakman, which in similar vein to Disobedience explores forbidden gay love in a strict Orthodox Jewish community. Aaron (Zohar Strauss) finds himself in a conundrum; a devout religious man living in a Haredi community in the oldest neighbourhood of Jerusalem, becomes torn between his family and devotion to God when he develops intense feelings for a young homeless man Ezri (Ran Danker). As his wife, the rabbi and consequently his community starts to suspect of the affair, they do everything possible to stop it and sure enough the relationship ends. An extremely well-executed and beautifully acted, it provides for a truly authentic visual portrayal of the Harredi community.

The Wedding
The Wedding is the first output of Egyptian production company ArabQ, the first ever Arab-based production company focused on movies with LGBTQ themes. The film tells the story of Rami (Abbas), a closeted Muslim man hiding his sexuality while preparing for his upcoming wedding to Sara (Nikohl Boosheri) as he struggles to square his desires with his strict religious upbringing. Because of its supposed controversial subject matter the film faces many challenges finding distribution in the Middle East, with screenings only in select theatres and by invitation only for the safety of those attending. The film is yet to have a release date in the UK.

Circumstance explores societal and religious motifs in modern day Iran, such as homosexuality, the countries youth, as well the grip of Islamic doctrine has on its citizens. Featuring Nikohl Boosheri, once again, as Atafeh the daughter of a wealthy Tehran family who is best friends with orphaned Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), both hold more liberal values, attending illegal raves. experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol. As their relationship deepens into something more serious, simultaneously Atafeh’s family becomes more indoctrinated, speered on by her brother, a recovering drug addict who finds solace in the teaching of Islam. The new familial state of play sees Atafah and Shireen veer in opposite directions.

A not-so recent but nevertheless relevant suggestion is 1994’s Priest, by 90s British indie director Antonia Bird. Exploring the correlation between Catholicism and homosexuality; the religion vehemently believes that acting on homosexual desires is a violation of the divine and natural law. In Priest, Bird casts a pre-Trainspotting Robert Carlyle as the tantalising Graham, the object of desire for closeted priest Father Greg Pilkington (Linus Roache). Expectedly, the hidden affair becomes public when the two get caught by the police having sex in a car and their relationship meets heavy condemnation and exile of Pilkington from the church's congregation.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Desiree Akhavan’s sophomore release,The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is based in bible belt America where Protestant fundamentalism is heavily practised. Orphaned teenager Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) is caught on prom night by her date having sex with one of her girlfriends in his car. Her mortified aunt seeks to ‘fix’ Cameron’s ‘condition’ by sending her off to God’s Promise, a gay conversion therapy centre for teenagers. Cameron remains reserved throughout, revealing an innate self-awareness, finding comfort in fellow ‘disciples’ Jane Fonda (Sacha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) who bond over their mutual rebelliousness and scepticism of the camp's practices.

A long-lost clandestine love is rekindled as an estranged Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns to her North London Orthodox Jewish community to bury her rabbi father only to be confronted once again with Etsi Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) who she shared an illicit teenage fling with. Etsi is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and is expecting, but Ronit’s reappearance brings to the surface dormant desires, which had been neatly tucked away behind every day religious duties. As the two, start to physically reacquaint their intimacy over the course of her father's extensive funeral service, Etsi starts to acknowledge an alternative, freer life outside the realms of her religious community.

Disobedience is set for release on the 30th November 2018.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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