Director Ahmad Alyaseer On The Complexities Of Gender Identity, Grief and Religion

Award-winning director Ahmad Alyaseer’s latest film, Our Males And Females, is a story of the harrowing injustice faced by a deceased transgender woman in the Middle East as her family grapples with the task of washing the body and coming to terms with their “son’s” new identity. The short, a powerful exploration of the complexities of gender identity, grief and religion, has not only captivated audiences worldwide but has also just secured its place as a strong contender for the 2024 Academy Awards.

What was the inspiration for the film? 

The story we created, my sister and I, drew inspiration from Bousi, a transgender woman from the Middle East. Throughout her life, she longed for acceptance from her family, friends, and the larger community. Although she legally transitioned, she never got official recognition as a woman, which made her vulnerable to discrimination.

We started to wonder: What would happen to a transgender person after they passed away? Would discrimination and lack of acceptance still affect them even then?

Why is it important to tell this LGBTQ+ story? 

As a filmmaker, both as a writer and director, my goal is to create movies that are daring, provoke discussion, and question preconceived notions. I aim to encourage viewers to contemplate topics they might not have thought about previously, and to shine a light on certain cultural and regional taboos. My hope is that by doing so, we can nurture empathy and tolerance. I firmly believe that there is an audience eager for films like “Our Males and Females.”

What message would you like the audience to take from this film? 

It’s time to stop squandering our incredible potential in the pursuit of approval. When everyone experiences a sense of security and acceptance within their society, we can accomplish remarkable and wonderful achievements. The solution is straightforward: accept each other.

How does it feel to be considered for an OSCAR? 

This is honestly incredible. I’m absolutely obsessed with the Oscars. I know every record, and I watch every nominated film! Since I was a child, my sister and I would skip school for Oscar night, and due to the time difference, we’d stay up all night until the morning. We’d make predictions and see who scored higher; it’s been a ritual for us up to now. Being a part of this now, it’s truly unreal.

Are there any plans to make this into a feature? 

We have a feature-length script that’s derived from the short film, and it carries the same title. Currently, it’s in its initial stages of development. We will explore the daughter’s life more extensively in the feature script. It also has very shocking and haunting moments, just like the short.

Why is it important that stories like this are heard? 

In a time when our world is interconnected, and diversity is an integral part of our existence, it’s ironic how challenging it remains for us to embrace each other fully. Across the globe, individuals experience discrimination based on factors such as religion, sexual orientation, gender, and race. People are dying because of this; lives are lost, and it’s shocking how far people will go to avoid acceptance. And that’s what we want people to see in our short film: the horrifying truth that many people are still encountering in their everyday lives.

What impact do you hope this film has? 

To be heard and seen, to resonate with those who struggle for acceptance, and for those individuals to watch it and understand that they don’t need approval. This struggle and fight will persist even after their passing, so they need not worry; they can simply be themselves. And for those who can’t accept them, let them be.

Did you face any challenges during filming? 

We encountered numerous obstacles during the production. We faced difficulties in obtaining funding mainly because of the controversial subject matter. Some crew members hesitated to join the project upon reading the script. In the end, I personally funded the entire thing, and I was fortunate to have a committed crew who had faith in the story and generously offered their time, many worked for free. 

Can you tell us a bit about your cast? 

I had prior experience collaborating with Shafiqa Al Tal, who portrays the mother in the film. I was deeply impressed by her personality, both in real life and on screen. She possesses a captivating presence, and when my sister and I wrote the script, we could only envision her in this role. As for Kamel El Basha, I had the opportunity to watch his performance in “The Insult,” a Lebanese film, and I instantly recognized that he would be an ideal fit for our movie. Meeting him in person was bliss, an amazing person, and both of them really pushed the film, their performances were captivating, and I was lucky that they were part of this.

What is next for you? 

My sister and I are currently working on the development stages of two feature films. As I mentioned earlier, one is based on the short film ‘Our Males and Females.’ Additionally, we have another short film that we are extremely excited about. We are hoping that the success of our short film will pique the interest of producers in our upcoming projects.

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