TenEighty recently spoke to Riyadh Khalaf about his new documentary film, Fighting For Pride.
The documentary, which first premiered during Buffer Festival 2018, shares the lead up to the first Pride parade in Eswatini, also known as Swaziland. Various members within the country’s LGBTQ+ community are interviewed throughout, sharing their thoughts on the parade and what it means to them.
Fighting For Pride was created with the help of YouTube’s Creators For Change initiative, which aims to create content focused on social change. Through the use of resources, such as funding, marketing and expertise, Riyadh was able to make his vision for the documentary a reality.
Swaziland was one of three countries under consideration for the documentary, with Uganda and Turkey also amongst the possibilities. Due to safety concerns and after further research, Swaziland was chosen.
“Swaziland was a country [where] I looked at the history, and specifically LGBT history, and I thought, ‘They’ve been fighting for so long and so hard just to be recognised,'” shares Riyadh, speaking with TenEighty. “Not necessarily for the Pride parade, just to be like, ‘Hey, we exist,’ and it looked like they have just about reached the point where a historical change is going to happen, and I thought, ‘I want to be there for it. I want to celebrate it.’ […] It was an opportunity for me to go in and document something that is going to change Africa. Not just Swaziland, but a country, because it ripples out.”
Along with interviewing those within the LGBTQ+ community, the documentary sees Riyadh visit various organizations and groups looking to help, including a clinic that offers sex education and treatment for HIV, a church where LGBTQ+ members can go to worship, and a group who were helping to make flags and decorations for the Pride parade celebrations. Riyadh also speaks to a group of young people, as it is currently illegal to be gay within the country and there are many misconceptions around those who identify as such.
When asked what the highlights were from filming Fighting For Pride, Riyadh cites an interview with one of those featured:
“The one highlight was when I got to meet this incredible trans person called Polycarp, who lives the most difficult life you can imagine, but still, everyday, puts on a smile, puts her makeup on [and] goes out there defiantly as herself in the face of verbal attacks [and] fear of physical attacks. Her family are brought into the mix and [are] shamed because they have a trans person in their family.
“I was just blown away,” he continues. “She lives in absolute poverty, with all this crap going on, yet openly and with warmth and love put her arms around me and is happy to see me. It’s like, ‘Jesus, if this girl can be so gorgeous and warm and a great human being in the face of that, then I have a lot of thinking I need to do about my life.'”
Riyadh has created many documentary-style projects about the LGBTQ+ community during his time on YouTube. During Buffer Festival 2017, he premiered I Am, a short film detailing the lives of four gay men who grew up during a time where being so was illegal in the UK. As well, he was the host of Queer Britain on BBC Three, a series which explored what it’s like to identify as LGBTQ+ in the UK.
Riyadh’s activism for the LGBTQ+ community comes from a want for members to feel how he felt when he attended his first Pride parade and came out to those around him, stating during a special premiere presentation of the film at Buffer Festival, “I really, really wanted to be clear that there was a definite reason why I was there, which is why I put in the whole moment of my first Pride and how it has impacted me and still does today.”
During the presentation, Riyadh also shared with Creators For Change program manager Paul Marvucic how he feels activism has changed throughout the years:
“I think the attitudes and the want to create change [are] the same. You look through generations [and] there’s a freedom fighter or freedom fighters who are willing to put everything on the line to make things better. The difference now is that we have this global network called the internet, where we can write each other, rally people with similar thought and ideals, and attack an issue as a collective, rather than an individual.”
Those wishing to watch Fighting For Pride can do so via Riyadh’s YouTube channel.