Angela Zahra is one of the three leads in Rolla Selbak’s Three Veils, a movie looking at the issues faced by three very different Middle Eastern women as they live their lives out on America’s west coast. Zahra’s characters, Amira, is a young lesbian in high school, struggling to reconcile her devout faith and the feelings she has for tearaway Nikki (Sheetal Sheth). Zarah’s intense emotional portrayal of Amira has won her many awards, including ‘Best Lead Actress’ at 2011’s New York City International Film Festival.
Whilst visiting the screening of the film as part of the POUT Film Festival, we got the opportunity to chat with her.
SSG: What attracted you to the role?
Three Veils is a very special step in my life, because my wish is to support all the LGBT people in the Middle East and everywhere, and my wish to give a voice to women like Amira, who needs a voice. I love everything about the film. I love all the details, and I love how it didn’t stereotype Arabs like most over films.
You’re not a lesbian yourself, so how did you go about preparing for the role?
Regardless if I’m gay or straight, love is love. I was really inspired by a lot of beautiful gay and lesbian people that I know in the Middle East. The story of Amira reminds me of the story of my best friends in Syria. The last day of shooting the film I told Selbak, ‘I feel like I’m leaving part of my heart in the film.’ I really connected with Amira so much, and I love this role and everything about it. I hope that this can change some things because it breaks my heart that gay and lesbian people, not only in the Middle East but in a lot of places in the world, can’t live their normal lives and can’t express their feelings. I’ve always wanted to do something about it. When Three Veils came into my hands I said to myself, ‘This is how I can do something. This is how I can support the LGBT community through my work as an actress. We can let everyone see how these people feel and what they go through. It’s not easy at all.’ I hope that more filmmakers will make more LGBT films, so we can share more stories with everyone, and hopefully we can change something.
Was it a difficult role to play?
It is a difficult role, but I love challenging roles. It’s one of the roles I gave so much emotion to the film. I gave it so much.
How does it feel to be the first Syrian actress to portray a lesbian on film, and has there been any negative reactions from the Syrian community?
I’ve very proud of that. I’m the first Arab to do a lesbian love scene. So, I’m very happy! But some people judge the movie without even seeing it, as it is taboo to talk about these issues in the Middle East. But the thing is this film is not made to offend anyone. It’s just a story that can happen with anyone of us. I’m very proud of the movie. I don’t understand why anyone would be upset by this movie. It’s all nature, it’s all human feelings. It has nothing against religion or traditions. I hope people understand that and respect that.
Do you think that Middle Eastern and Western cultures can coexist?
As much as people can find differences between theses two cultures I sometimes feel they’re so much similar. Despite how we express our feelings or our cultures, people are the same.
What has been the response from the lesbian community?
Oh, it’s amazing. It’s made me so happy. It’s enough for me to know that they appreciate this film. They all love the role, its amazing.
Were you ever aware at any point that this film would be so successful and that you yourself would receive so much praise?
I was just enjoying every step of this movie, every moment of this movie, every feeling that I felt – not thinking about the future. I was just really focusing on doing something for the LGBT in the Middle East and around the world. That’s what the movie means to me. Although it’s nice to win awards.