The cross-dressing Asif was one of three courageous characters who agreed to be filmed for this First Cut documentary Muslim Drag Queens (Channel 4). Courageous, because homosexuality remains a taboo in Islam and Asif has received death threats. The “Gaysian” club scene in London is clandestine, populated by young men who fear coming out not just to their families but to the wider Muslim community. In his Bhutto headscarf, Asif was on his way to a rally in memory of Nazim Mahmood, a doctor who committed suicide after telling his parents he was in a gay relationship. Muslim supporters were notable by their absence.
It could have been bleak, but this accomplished debut from first-time director Marcus Plowright, narrated by Ian McKellen, was everything a good documentary should be: powerful, often moving and expertly injecting the subject matter with a hefty dose of humour.
Asif was not afraid of controversy. In a deliberately provocative move, he dressed his alias, Asifa Lahore, in a burka and disrobed as part of his drag act. Yet it was a quieter moment that best illustrated his conflicted identity, when he was unable to hide his disapproval at fellow drag queen Ibrahim kneeling to pray in a pub.
There was one happy ending – Asif’s mother turned up to see him win an award for his LGBT campaigning, to tears all around. Too many documentaries are of the point and sneer variety – Channel 4 being one of the worst offenders with shows such as Benefits Street. This commendable film did the opposite, and it sparkled.