With regards to theatre and filmmaking within the West, portrayals of Afghanistan usually do not transcend girls in blue burqas and males carrying AK-47s.
However in 2017, two Individuals tried one thing unconventional. Lyricist Charlie Sohne and composer Tim Rosser created a musical a couple of topic even Afghans would take into account too delicate and unsettling – “bacha bazi” or “boy play”.
Bacha bazi is a apply whereby rich, highly effective older males purchase and hold adolescent boys – often known as dancing boys – for leisure and intercourse. The boys are skilled to bop seductively at male-only events and sometimes sexually abused.
The Boy Who Danced on Air instructed a love story between a 16-year-old boy, Paiman, and one other younger boy caught in the identical bacha bazi apply.
The musical largely made a superb impression on theatre critics; it was referred to as “brave, considerate and delightful”. One evaluation, within the New York Occasions, referred to as the subject material “troubling” and mentioned Sohne and Rosser had “taken the problem of inauspicious supply materials too far”.
Quick-forward to 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic compelled theatres to shut, and The Boy Who Danced on Air joined many different productions on on-line streaming companies as a substitute. However, unexpectedly, the transfer provoked a wave of shock and criticism from Afghans dwelling around the globe, who, studying of the musical for the primary time, accused it of romanticising youngster sexual abuse and youngster rape.
Madina Wardak, an Afghan medical social employee based mostly within the US, mentioned she watched 40 minutes of the musical and needed to flip it off.
“I felt uncomfortable, misunderstood, frantic and anxious all on the identical time,” she mentioned. “I cringed each time the actors tried to be plausible and each time the viewers had fun on the expense of actual Afghan ache.”
The present has additionally confronted criticism for selling bacha bazi as a practice that’s accepted in Afghanistan.
“Bacha bazi is a dangerous apply that ought to not in any method be romanticised,” mentioned the Afghan actress and founding father of Mena Arts, Azita Ghanizada. “To have one other piece of artwork targeted on Afghanistan utterly by means of the white lens shook up our group.”
Because the criticism unfold on social media, Troy Iwata, the Japanese-American actor who performs Paiman within the musical, posted an apology on his Instagram account.
“Some time in the past I did a present the place I performed somebody of Afghan descent, which I’m not,” he mentioned. “The present romanticised sexual assault and misconstrued a complete tradition and its folks. I’m so sorry.”
Regardless of bacha bazi being unlawful underneath Afghan regulation, authorities are unable to finish the apply as a result of a lot of these concerned are influential males. To those males, holding a “bacha baireesh”, or “boy with out beard”, is an indication of energy and excessive social standing.
Within the 1990s, bacha bazi was outlawed by the Taliban, with sodomy, dancing and music carrying the dying penalty – though the militant group have been accused of taking part within the apply themselves.
The dearth of Afghans or their enter within the manufacturing of The Boy Who Danced on Air was another excuse the musical got here underneath fireplace.
Ms Ghanizada mentioned: “Had Charlie and Tim centred Afghan voices through the course of they’d have been extra cautious and considerate. Maybe they’d have even identified that it wasn’t their story to show right into a musical, however alas, Afghanistan was only a device of their story.
“The writers poured gasoline and lit a match on lots of the wounds we’re working exhausting to heal,” added Ms Ghanizada.
The Afghan LGBTQ group particularly has expressed discontent with the orientalist nature of the story and plenty of have mentioned the present harmed sexual assault survivors.
Dr Qais Munhazim, a queer Afghan scholar and Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson College mentioned: “The musical is just not solely an orientalist depiction of Afghans as a complete, however additionally it is painfully damaging to the queer and trans Afghans. The musical wrongfully associates paedophilia with queerness.
“Because the early days of the US navy invasion of Afghanistan, from occupying forces to international journalists, journey bloggers and researchers have tried to affiliate bacha bazi with Afghan queerness, damaging queer liberation in Afghanistan and in its diasporas.
“The queer and trans Afghans are uninterested in the white gaze into their lives and experiences. They quite inform their very own tales, in their very own voices and with their very own imaginations for a queer future,” he mentioned.
When the present moved to on-line streaming, it grew to become accessible to folks around the globe. And in accordance with Wazina Zondon, a queer sexuality educator, it “triggered discussions of rape and youngster sexual assault that span throughout sexual and gender identification”.
“I’ve heard from many allies, cis, gender queer, trans, heterosexual, LGBQI and non-Afghans who’ve shared their intimate and actual tales with me because of this. For some, the primary time ever saying this aloud,” mentioned Ms Zondon, who’s the co-creator of a storytelling efficiency Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love.
“As a queer Afghan, I perceive my experiences raised within the West are completely different from the realities of these in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the narrative this musical is telling dismisses, erases and co-opts the experiences and tales of LGBTQI Afghans.”
Following the outrage over their musical, the makers had been fast to difficulty an apology to the Afghan diaspora, but it surely was met with extra anger from Afghans who demanded the manufacturing be cancelled and its proceeds donated to the victims of bacha bazi.
The broader discontent compelled the present’s makers and Diversionary Theatre – an LGBTQ firm that streamed the musical on-line – to contain Afghan activists and students in a dialogue to resolve the difficulty.
After the session with members of the Afghan group, together with Ms Azita, Dr Munhazim, Ms Zondon and Ms Wardak, Sohne and Rosser issued a second apology, this time deciding to take down the manufacturing together with Youtube movies from the present, ending the sale of the album and eradicating it from streaming companies.
In a joint assertion they mentioned their musical “created a world of ache for folks within the Afghan group – particularly, LGBT Afghans who’re significantly marginalised”.
They apologised to the victims of bacha bazi who had been disturbed by the present and the posts selling it and mentioned the apply was “unlawful and brutal and abusive”.
“We additionally now realise that it was not our place as privileged white writers to inform tales about communities which are already underrepresented and underneath assault on this nation,” their assertion learn.
Diversionary Theatre, which was streaming the present on-line till July, has now eliminated it from its web site and apologised for utilizing the phrase “custom” to market the manufacturing.
The makers have mentioned they are going to donate proceeds to Afghan charities “to mitigate the hurt performed as a lot as doable” and have acknowledged that “no Afghan voices had been empowered within the creation of the present”.
The choice has been welcomed by Afghan diasporas, though transferring ahead Ms Ghanizada believes the artistic arts should cease capitalising from Afghan tales.
“Writers particularly should be taught to cease occupying our tales and benefiting from our ache, with out consulting us, hiring us, centring us,” she mentioned.