The Amina Profile
The blog 'A Gay Girl in Damascus,' active in 2011, attracted attention around the world. It was a sexy spin on the Arab Spring: events seen through the eyes of a beautiful, out lesbian in Syria who was protesting against the regime.
When the blogger, Amina Arraf, is reportedly abducted by government officials, her online girlfriend in Montreal, Sandra Bagaria, sets off the alarm. Soon bloggers worldwide are reporting the story - creating a Free Amina campaign and lobbying foreign governments to intervene. The trouble is that Amina doesn't exist - no record of her can be found and no one in her communities has ever met her or spoken to her in person. Eventually journalists trace the cyber-trail to Tom MacMaster, a forty-year-old American graduate student (and failed novelist) in Istanbul. He confesses and claims that he wanted to help bring the plight of Syrian people to Western readers and that he chose this compelling persona to aid his cause.
This documentary is full of strange and fascinating stories and makes great viewing. MacMaster never seems to realize that this is far from a victimless crime, let alone an act of altruism. His hoax took attention away from real stories and took valuable time away from the reporting of world events. This is what bothers the activists who appear in the film. For Bagaria, obviously, it is much more personal. She had a six month relationship with a person who didn't exist. By the end of the film she is emotionally ready to confront the man behind Amina, although it is not easy for her.
While Sandra Bagaria's story is the angle which drew Quebecois filmmaker Sophie Derasp's attention, I like that Bagaria remained in the shadows, allowing the strange story to enfold through the tales of many others who were involved. The Amina Profile brings up many questions of authenticity, voice and identity online. While online daters are warned not to accept partners at face value, most people surfing the Internet believe that high-profile online sources have been vetted and that a blog which is mentioned by a legit news source is above reproach. Hoaxes are all too common, though, and the search for Amina also unmasked another a man who created a fake identity to run a queer site called Lez Get Real (and also seems to have had an online relationship with MacMaster - two straight men, both pretending to be lesbians). Deraspe's dreamy sequences of an imagined Amina are intriguing and effective. Highly recommended viewing.
Showing September 28th 8:45 pm at the Rio and September 30 10:30 am at International Village 8.