The Amina Profile is directed by Montreal-based filmmaker Sophie Deraspe, who previously directed the feature films Missing Victor Pellerin (2006) and Vital Signs (2009). The Amina Profile follows Montrealer Sandra Bagaria, who begins a long-distance relationship with a Syrian woman Sandra met online named Amina Arraf. However, through a sequence of events, it quickly comes to light that Amina might not be all that she seems.
Toronto Film Scene communicated with both Sophie Deraspe and Sandra Bagaria to discuss The Amina Profile. It should be noted that some of the revelations made in the documentary will be discussed in this interview.
Sandra Bagaria had her first interaction with Amina Arraf in January 2011 through a Facebook dating application and the two began their “relationship” a month later. “We started writing daily to each other and at the same time, the Arab Uprising was starting to make headlines in the news,” says Bagaria of the initial encounters. While Sandra initially had doubts about this “relationship,” they were eventually subsided by the mainstream media coverage received by the success of Amina’s blog “Gay Girl in Damascus.” “When The Guardian ‘conducted’ an interview with Amina in May, I had no more reason to doubt. One of the most trusted news organisations in the world met with her, how could I keep on doubting her writing and existence after it?”
Sandra personally knew Sophie Deraspe, who was witness to this online love affair from the beginning, including some of the later developments. “When Amina was abducted, it felt like being in a thriller, coupled with an overwhelming emotional journey for Sandra,” says Deraspe. “Once the hoax was revealed, I remember telling her that a film was unfolding in front of us, but that we were only at minute 30 of an incredible international story. The rest was yet to come.”
When The Guardian ‘conducted’ an interview with Amina in May, I had no more reason to doubt.
The truth about Amina was already known when Sophie Deraspe began shooting The Amina Profile. Despite being a first-hand witness to the events, Deraspe still did a lot of research in preparation for the film, during which she discovered the true scope of this story. “It was by meeting the key people involved in the story, by going all over the world, that we realized the impact and began to understand how such a fantasy could have spread and been shared even by brilliant, educated, well-informed people.”
The Amina Profile builds on the mythology of Amina Affraf, though a series of dramatizations. In talking about this aspect of the film, Deraspe states that she used these narrative film codes to help the audience get immersed in the illusion. “Narrative film is an amazing vehicle for fantasy. I wanted the viewer to dive into lesbian eroticism and the making of a revolution – the ingredients for the success of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. It is only when the fantasy is shared that the brutal reality can be faced,” says Deraspe on the film’s dramatizations. Deraspe goes on to say the reality of the story was much more compelling, which is why she was pushed towards making a documentary, instead of a fully narrative film.
The Amina Profile says a lot about the power of social media to both influence and manipulate. Amina’s blog was supported by other Syrian bloggers and the revelation of the hoax hurt their credibility somewhat. “To nourish a fiction and a quest for fame on the back of those who are truly endangering themselves for truth and justice is just outrageous. It is no wonder so many involved are disillusioned and jaded,” says Deraspe about the effect of this hoax on real bloggers. However, Deraspse goes on to say that Rami, a blogger who campaigned for Amina, said that he would do it all again.
The success of the Amina persona is like a mirror image of our own desires.
At the centre of this whole ordeal was Sandra Bagaria, who Deraspe said showed a great deal of courage in travelling the globe and regaining power over her story. The film climaxes somewhat with Sandra confronting the individual who was behind Amina. She states it was a stressful moment for her, but that it also felt right. “As we know emotions are pretty hard to control, and it made me feel weak for couple of minutes. I wanted to be strong but got anxious. I knew that encounter had to happen, that we had travelled for this reason and I had to bring back myself together,” says Sandra about her feelings at that moment. When Sandra saw that this individual was just a normal person, she was able to regain some of her composure. “I had a mission and it became very clear. My emotions left the room and my goal was to take back control of a story I had lost control over before.”
The main question that has be asked surrounding The Amina Profile is why a lesbian blog attracted so much attention in the first place? Derapse says that this was all just an amazing synchronicity of events. “A blog about being gay and liberal in a conservative country where a revolution is just beginning to simmer; the fact that journalists were not able to enter the country to cover what was happening, making Western media eager for a voice from the inside who could speak to a Western audience; activists who needed to get the word out; and the existence of a Canadian lover who could “vouch” for her. It’s as if everyone was involved in fabricating a persona without even being aware of it,” she says about how the events played out. “The media certainly bear a huge responsibility in this scam, but we too are a part of how it all worked out. Why do we need this catchy blog title to follow a Syrian activist? Why do we click on the profile of the cutest, boldest, sexiest lesbian from a country where women are supposedly covered and submissive? The success of the Amina persona is like a mirror image of our own desires.”
One thing to arise out of this ordeal is that Sandra Bagaria is now much more careful about future online communications. “I am a romantic person, I do love the mystery you can create around yourself but I spent less time leaving it up in the air and making fantasies out of it,” says Sandra of her changed behaviours. ” We want things to happen quickly, we are impatient. An email unanswered for 24-48 hours gets overwhelming. This is what I remind myself everyday now, take and leave the time to things. It makes me appreciate it even more.”