I sat down with Taia for an interview about his film, his life, and his views on homosexuality, Islam, Morocco and France. Here are some highlights.
Are you hoping that Salvation Army will be released in Morocco?
More than hoping—I really want it to be released in Morocco. Before shooting, I submitted the screenplay in its original form to the authorities at the National Centre for Moroccan Cinema. I didn't cut anything. I didn't want to sugarcoat things in order to get the green light to shoot. They approved the screenplay, and I hope they end up following through by allowing the film to be released.
I know a lot of people will be shocked when they see the film. But I don’t see anything shocking in it, because it portrays a reality. I’m not the only person to have lived this reality, nor am I the only one who sees it.
You’re known as a novelist, and this is your first film. What inspired you to make the movie?
Cinema has been an obsession of mine for a long time. Ever since my adolescence, I’ve had this dream [of making movies], which came from my love of Egyptian cinema. That was the only culture that we had access to in Morocco, as a poor family. Egyptian films were the only ones on Moroccan television. They taught us a lot about love, about society, about ourselves. And as a homosexual, they pretty much saved me, because they allowed me to escape to this whole other world.
There are also films and filmmakers that inspired me, but that I didn't discover until I was an adult: Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy; the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, for its dark romanticism, its taste for melodrama, its critique of World War II-era Germany and its subversive, but tender, portrait of homosexuality; and Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus, which directly influenced Salvation Army.
Tell me about what it’s like today for homosexuals in Morocco. Have things evolved at all?
The law still considers homosexuality a crime, and people are still are very harsh in their views of gays. So that has not changed.
On the other hand, the Moroccan press has dramatically changed its view on homosexuality—for example, they defend me. They also give gay people in Morocco the chance to express themselves. There are young gay Moroccans who created a gay magazine in Arabic. And there’s now an Arabic word for “homosexual” that is not disrespectful: “mithy.” It was created just six years ago, and is now used everywhere.
It’s the government that has not changed. It’s still impossible to come out of the closet in Morocco and anywhere in the Arab world. Morocco is actually ahead of other Arab countries when it comes to homosexuality, because at least the issue has been debated in the press.
At the end of the film, the protagonist seems nostalgic for Morocco (he’s living in Switzerland, but cries when he hears a Moroccan song). What are your feelings about Morocco today?