Documentary by gay Israeli TV host Assi Azar screened Tuesday in San Francisco
The Ryan Seacrest of Israel, Assi Azar, warmly received at his San Francisco documentary screening on Tuesday, November 15.
Like many who come to San Francisco, Assi Azar was a little shocked by something he witnessed here. Azar, 32, is well-known in Israel as the host of the country’s Big Brother show. He was in town to promote his documentary, “Mom, Dad; I Have Something to Tell You.” The 45-minute doc looks at young people in Israel coming out to their parents, including Azar, who disclosed his sexuality when he was 24. The documentary looks at the coming out process through the eyes of the parents.
What surprised Azar here in San Francisco?
He was not only invited to speak before a high-school in San Francisco, it was a Catholic school. In his film tour, he also met a 14-year-old boy who was out since he was 12. Azar said he has never been asked to speak before a school in Israel, let alone a religious school and he was astounded that someone could be out at the age of 14. Azar said he would tell Rabbis in Israel of the religious acceptance of gays he observed in the US. Azar was also gratified that so many students would stay late after school voluntarily to watch a documentary about gay youth coming out.
Gays have more rights in Israel than the US and not surprisingly, more rights than any place else in the Muslim-dominated Middle East. Gay marriages are recognized in Israel, gays have the right to adopt, and gays have long been allowed to openly serve in the Israeli military.
Despite the legal protections and rights for gays, including the national recognition of gay marriage, the societal acceptance of gays in many sectors still has a way to go. The doc includes interviews with Azar’s parents. He notes that when he told his mother he was gay, that he saw her”age 30 years before my eyes. Her face just fell.” By contrast, his father, whom Azar thought wouldn’t take the news well, reacted with overwhelming support and love. Azar told the audience before the screening began that his mother at first said she would not participate in the documentary but later changed her mind when his father was interviewed for the film. Azar dutifully relayed the message that his mother wanted everyone to know that because she didn’t plan to participate in the film, she didn’t have time to fix her hair or apply makeup.
“My mother is better looking than my father,” Azar quipped.
Azar interviewed a gay teenager whose parents found out he was gay after the tragic 2009 shooting at a gay youth club in Tel Aviv that killed two people and injured more 15. The teen was among those hurt. His parents disowned him after the shooting. But Azar noted in a question and answer period after the film screening at the Opera Plaza Cinema, that the boy has since reconciled with his parents.
In some respects, the film resembled a documentary of gays coming out that would have been made in the US in the 1970s. One woman spoke anonymously in silhouette about the trauma and shock of having a lesbian daughter.
But in other respects, the doc brought home the family ties that are so important to the people of Israel, whose young people are required to serve in the military. Faced with the death of a son or daughter in the army, being gay doesn’t seem so bad.
“Be what ever you want to be. Just keep breathing,” Azar explained is the philosophy of many parents.
The film was broadcast on Israeli television. Azar said he was surprised and pleased there was so much interest in the film outside of Israel. He didn’t expect that it would resonate with as many people as it has.
Azar hopes to make another documentary about AIDS and HIV, noting that some in Israel have become complacent about the disease.
Azar also had high praise for a new documentary produced by filmmakers he knew entitled “The Invisible Man” about the struggles that gay Palestinians face. Some live illegally in Israel and live in fear of being found out and sent back to the West Bank or Gaza.