SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2015
By Don Simpson | January 25, 2015
Director: Sophie Deraspe
Sophie Deraspe’s The Amina Profile begins with a sultry online romance between Amina Arraf and Sandra Bagaria. They met on Facebook then soon began emailing and sexting each other. Based in Syria, Arraf achieved international celebrity via her blog “Gay Girl in Damascus.” Arraf bravely risked her life by attaching her real name and image to a blog which rebelliously documented her participation in the early days of the Arab Spring. Bagaria observed Arraf’s revolutionary actions from the safety of her home in Canada, impressed (and turned on) by Arraf’s audacious behavior, all the while concerned about Arraf’s safety; because, despite living thousands of miles away apart and having never met in person — let alone heard each other’s voice — Arraf and Bagaria considered themselves to be in a relationship.
After Arraf was purportedly kidnapped by the Syrian government, Bagaria began to search for anyone who might have some information regarding Arraf’s situation. As more people began asking questions, it became increasingly obvious that Arraf was nothing like her online profile. Arraf’s blog “Gay Girl in Damascus” was promptly discredited and major new organizations admitted that they were duped. It was not all that comforting to Bagaria that she was not the only one fooled by the online persona of “Amina Arraf,” so she takes it upon herself to confront the real person.
In the greater context of things, it was probably the LGBTQ Syrian communities who were harmed the most by this charade. They were given a false sense of security by “Gay Girl in Damascus,” leading them to believe that it was safe to “out” themselves and stand up to Bashar al-Assad and his cronies. “Gay Girl in Damascus” also gave the Syrian LGBTQ community a voice in the international media, but after the blog was outed as an elaborate ruse, the mainstream media lost interest in them.
For better or worse, the “Gay Girl in Damascus” affair has spawned a greater level of reluctance towards online activists. Perhaps this will serve as a lesson for people (especially the media) to authenticate sources before believing them. Though no matter how many cautionary tales about false online personas are presented to our society, there will always be people intent upon believing everything that they read on the Internet. This is especially true with online relationships, which most likely is why Deraspe chose to enter this story via Bagaria’s interactions with Arraf. Deraspe is extremely careful about her representation of Bagaria, carefully avoiding making her out to be a romantic fool. In Deraspe’s eyes, there is only one fool in this story and that is the person hiding behind the “Amina Affaf” avatar.