In a country where homosexuality is still penalized, the feminist LGBT+ group Nassawiyat launches a poetic and political video series to try to change conservative mindsets.
"My hair has never been like others, people have always described it as ugly, frizzy..."
So begins "Nouwara," the first episode of the web series Homouna (which means "they/them," in reference to the pronoun used to designate a person who doesn't use she or he pronouns).
It's produced by the Moroccan LGBTQ+ feminist group Nassawiyat (meaning "feminist") and financed by an undisclosed backer. Posted on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook, Homouna tells the story of a queer woman in a patriarchal society.
"I always told myself that my skin color altered my beauty and that I needed to wear colors to make my face look lighter," says the voiceover, illustrated live by the hands of Rim C., a female cartoonist. The quotes are excerpted from 21 interviews conducted by Nassawiyat, which strive to tell the intimate history of members of the LGBTQ+ community in Morocco.
First episode of Homouna series: Nouwara www.youtube.com
"Society and family have eyes everywhere"
The phrases that touch on self-esteem and the various injunctions of patriarchal society follow each other as the drawings gain color. The female body is always subject to discussion, to evaluation. "My relationship to my body has always been governed by the things I saw, experienced, or heard," says Nouwara.
The variations in one's weight, discussed in this first video, are not insignificant: They help reveal the way it affects mental health: "I eat a lot when I feel like it, and then I lose my appetite when I do not feel well mentally. When I lose weight, I feel really happy even though I can be in a very dark mental space."
As a logical continuation, control over a woman's body is connected to control over her life path, as the narrator's family critiques her physical appearance as much as the fact that she is still unmarried: It's not only important to remain a virgin before marriage to preserve the family's honor, but also to dress in a modest way, hiding one's body.
In the intimate life of Moroccan women, society and family have eyes everywhere, the story suggests. Many women feel like objects to be grasped rather than full human beings. To make everyone happy, except yourself, you stick to the rules, tick the boxes.
Another look at gender and sexuality
The illustrations help the series push the women out of their boxes, escape their obligations, as they describe themselves through the oppression of a system, with the drawing eventually unfolding to represent a liberated woman. The lines become more and more enlightened, accompanied by powerful words: "From now on, I make peace with myself, I am a beautiful woman, period." Episode 1 lasts only a few minutes but sounds like a short meditation session, with an undeniable poetry, which makes you want to discover the rest.
Prison for "licentious or unnatural acts toward a person of the same sex."
Nouwara does not only need to emancipate herself from her relationship to her body and the gaze of others. She also has a confession to make; she loves a woman and would like to be free to flaunt her homosexuality. Outside the fantasy world of animation, this is still impossible in Morocco, where the penal code charges up to three years of imprisonment for "licentious or unnatural acts toward a person of the same sex." In April 2020, a widespread campaign of outing homosexuality of many Moroccans shook the country.
Homouna aims precisely to raise awareness of the existence of this LGBTQ+ community, described as "vulnerable and resistant." Being a queer woman, being queer in the diaspora, being transgender, being intersex... each of the other four episodes bring together the testimonies of these Moroccans.
As many movements, documentaries, TV series and films around the world contribute to a broader look at women's bodies, gender diversity and sexuality issues, Nassawiyat wants this North African kingdom to play its part.