Follow Us

Follow on Twitter    Follow on Facebook    YouTube Channel    Vimeo Channel    SoundCloud Channel    iPhone App    iPhone App

Queer Arab Joy in Anya Kneez: A Film Review

[Screenshot from Anya Kneez (2017), taken from Vimeo.] [Screenshot from Anya Kneez (2017), taken from Vimeo.]

Anya Kneez, a short documentary directed by Mohamed Abdouni and produced in association with Cold Cuts, premiered in June 2017 at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, with an additional screening held in Mar Mikhael, Beirut at AR_KA. The eleven-minute film provides an intimate look into the complex life of Abdouni’s best friend, Anya Kneez, a drag queen living in Beirut. Carving out space in our hetero-normative world, Anya Kneez provides visual representation of queer and gender non-conforming Arab culture that is rarely seen. Resisting Western narratives that paint the existence of queer Arabs as contradictory or downright impossible, this film gives agency to the community and portrays our story without shying away from its nuances.

Over the course of the film, Anya’s transformation into her drag persona is revealed through spliced footage and narrative voiceovers, ultimately delivering an enticing visual experience in combination with a heartfelt personal history. Immediately forging an intimate connection with viewers, the film begins with extreme close-ups that show Anya’s makeup ritual and creation of her look, shifting between her bedroom and the streets of Beirut. Simultaneously, we listen as she narrates her life—growing up in the United States as a “fully blooded Lebanese” and navigating coming of age as a queer Arab in a family who views the queer community unfavourably. Ultimately finding a sense of freedom through fashion and drag, Anya discusses notions of identity and belonging as rooted in multiple sites, both literal and metaphorical. Residing somewhat reluctantly in Beirut due to familial and career responsibilities, she obviously still feels an affinity towards the city and culture despite how “[her] circumstances do not fit in [the] country,” which is a central part of her struggle. The apex of the film comes when we finally see Anya’s profile in full frame for the first time, her drag look complete as she dons a headpiece and laughingly notes through voiceover “I am my mother,” alluding to the influence of family, no matter how fraught the relationship.  

Anya Kneez touches upon several difficult truths of being a queer Arab and navigating cultural and familial expectations, but the film also does something even more important than simply tell that story—it shows how joy can still be a part of our narrative. Interspersed throughout the film are shots of Anya dancing solo in a club under pulsating blue and purple lights, however, not until the last few frames of the film do we see a frontal view of her face and the utter happiness she emotes. Thus, viewers understand that despite the hardships Anya faces living as a queer, gender non-conforming drag queen in Beirut, there is still strength and joy to be found in her identity and life. The film’s representation of queer Arab joy and resilience is truly necessary in today’s media realm, as it both challenges hegemonic Western narratives surrounding queer Arab existence and brings strength to our community.  

The complete film can be viewed below.

COLD CUTS PRESENTS • ANYA KNEEZ: A Queen in Beirut from Cold Cuts on Vimeo.

Political Economy Project

This page is co-produced with the Political Economy Project​The Political Economy Project (PEP) is an evolving focus of the Arab Studies Institute, with research, pedagogic, and advocacy objectives. Our founding workshop took place in April 2015 at the Arab Studies Institute in Virginia and was followed by several workshops, conferences, research projects, resource building efforts, and other activities. The workshop and preparations for it spawned an initial membership of more than sixty researchers and scholars of political economy from the Middle East and beyond. PEP’s evolving cluster of activities revolve around research, pedagogy, training, network-building, and advocacy. Our network grows through nominations by existing members. A cornerstone of PEP is to provide opportunities and training for students and emerging researchers both from the region and beyond. READ MORE HERE.

Political Economy Summer Institute

Each year, the Political Economy Project hosts the Political Economy Summer Institute. The goal of the Summer Institute is to foster and support critical scholarship on the political economy of the Middle East and beyond. It brings together faculty leaders and student participants for four days of immersive study. Faculty members lead sessions on themes such as state formation, imperialism, and labor, while students present their research and workshop their papers. To date the Political Economy Project has hosted two summer institutes at George Mason University in 2016 and 2017. More information can be found here.

Political Economy Book Prize

The Political Economy Project just closed the doors for our 2017 Middle East Political Economy Book Prize. The book prize aims to recognize and disseminate exceptional critical work on the political economy of the Middle East. While the book must have a political economy theme, we welcome nominations from across academic disciplines. Submissions will be read and judged by a committee drawn from PEP’s membership. Eligible texts must have been published in the year prior, and can be either Arabic or English language. The book must make an original contribution to critical political economy research. The author(s) of the winning book will receive a prize of US$1000 and will be invited to give a talk at a PEP affiliated University. The author(s) will also be interviewed by the Arab Studies Institute’s Audio Magazine, Status/الوضع. For more information, contact us at


JADMAG Issue 4.2 "What is Political Economy?" is out!