(United States, 74 min.)
Dir. Sandra Itäinen
“My mother met my ex-girlfriend multiple times and just thought she was a close friend,” says Eman Abdelhadi “[It’s] this weird moment, which there are a lot of those when you’re hiding something important from someone you’re close to.”
Director Sandra Itäinen observes the story of activist and scholar Eman Abdelhadi in Coming Around as she struggles to share her queerness with her mother, Fatten. Eman, being a second-generation Palestinian-Egyptian woman, faces many challenges including the relationship with her mother, the harsh views society has on queer Muslim people and the relationship that she has with herself. Itäinen really has a way of showing Eman’s story and the toll it has mentally on her as she tries to live comfortably with her own identity and accept the alternative views of her mother. This makes Eman live a double life hiding her queerness.
Eman Abdelhadi is the main figure of this film as well as the narrator. She lives in New York City and has found a queer Muslim community where she can be her true self. She is not very religious but she does read the Quran and actively helps other members in the LGBTQ community to be comfortable in their own skin. Another figure in the film is her mother, Fatten Elkomy, who lives in Columbia, Missouri. Fatten is a religious woman but also believes in fairness and justice for the Muslim community. While Fatten wants the best for her daughters, and pushes them to succeed, she struggles to understand Eman’s views and different way of thinking. They seem to have issues communicating and usually “agree to disagree”. This conflict makes Eman feel pushed into marriage with her boyfriend, Quinton. Eman feels this is a way for her mother to accept her, as well to hide the truth about her identity; however, it actually makes her feel like an imposter to her true self.
There are a lot of deep feelings and themes in this film, you can feel the tension and sadness through the screen. Cinematographer Uwa Iduozee does an amazing job at capturing this story as the camera follows Eman in her day to day life, as well as accompanying her to her mother’s house in Columbia. Most of these shots take place in their homes, so you feel one with Eman and the conversations with her mother. It invites comparison to Jude Chehab’s film Q, which also shared a complicated mother-daughter relationship, but without the sit down interviews of family members. Both Chehab’s mom and Eman’s mom have very strong religious views and Muslim community support. While this may be good for the mothers’ faith, it has made it hard for them to accept ideas outside of their traditions, especially when other family members think differently.
There are also changes in the colour schemes in this film. A large portion of it is warm and light to show Eman’s life. This includes her visiting her mother, spending time with her boyfriend, hosting meetings with people a part of the LGBTQ community and doing school work. However, when she is in her car driving, it appears more blue and dull. The car is a place for Eman to reflect and find clarity in her thoughts, and they are usually uncomfortable and hard to face. It can also be seen as a safe space for her since she really reveals her true feelings on her drives. However, times where Eman looks more joyous and herself is usually in scenes of nightlife at queer bars in New York. There are colourfully bright lights and people enjoying themselves being free to be who they are and feel more accepted. She also usually brings along her friends that she trusts and are a part of her community.
Eman and her mother have highs and lows in their relationship throughout Coming Around, but towards the end of the film when Eman breaks up with her husband, something seems to change in her thinking. Eman and Quinton recognize the marriage was not healthy and that it was important to end it to improve her mental well-being. This includes her strengthening important relationships in her life. Coming Around truly allows audiences to be in the shoes of a queer Muslim woman.
Coming Around screens at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto December 8th at 6:30pm.