It’s the first queer play to be staged in Tunisia—director Essia Jaibi’s latest work aims to challenge conservative attitudes in a country where same-sex acts are punishable by prison terms.
Flagranti (or In the Act), which premiered at a city-center theater in the capital at the weekend, deals with “a reality that we pretend not to see”, Jaibi told AFP.
The work, co-produced by LGBTQ rights group Mawjoudin (translating to “we exist”), is played by six mostly amateur actors aged between 23 and 71, reflecting a decades-long struggle for gay rights in the North African country.
Infused with black humor, it tells the stories of people who have suffered violence at home, in the workplace, and in public.
Tunisia is seen as relatively liberal on social issues compared with other Arab countries, but nevertheless imposes sentences of up to three years in prison for “sodomy” for both men and women.
The country saw a rise in public LGBTQ rights activism in the years following its 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring uprisings.
But despite years of efforts, rights groups say the community is still vulnerable, with as little as a photo on a telephone potentially leading to arrest, physical violence, and anal examinations.
The notorious Article 230 of the penal code saw 59 people jailed between early 2020 and last October, according to Mawjoudin.
The play, inspired by real events, “talks about a taboo subject, a reality that in Tunisia we keep pretending not to see, which this show is trying to bring to the public’s attention,” Jaibi said.
Mawjoudin member Karam Aouini said the play aims to challenge “discriminatory” mentalities and campaign for an end to a “backward law”, as well as promote queer art.
The NGO also organized Tunisia’s first queer cinema festival in 2018.