As more activists and journalists in a number of countries joined the cause, however, Amina’s story began to fall apart under the scrutiny. The documentary feels more like a mystery and almost like fiction itself as it unravels the multiple layers behind Amina’s real identity. The revelation is jaw-dropping and infuriating, and the outrage only increases as each additional detail is uncovered. “A Gay Girl in Damascus” could be likened to an expanded episode of “Catfish,” with many of the same elements present in the narrative, from the investigation to the profile creator’s reaction to being caught.
Where this documentary diverges from the MTV series is in its aftermath. The consequences for the betrayal aren’t simply a broken heart, though Sandra certainly could claim that. “Amina” drew a lot of international attention, particularly during her supposed kidnapping, which diverted time, focus, and resources from real Syrians who were in danger during that period. The person behind the Amina profile didn’t merely dupe Sandra; instead, that person caused a panic around the world as people contacted various government and aid agencies, and journalists devoted their time to her story. The U.S. State Department even investigated the disappearance. Interspersing the narrative with clips of unrelated violence in Syria, “A Gay Girl in Damascus” attempts to right this wrong. It never loses its focus on Amina and Sandra, but it does allow the audience glimpses of the larger human rights violations that happened in the region.
Other reenactments are peppered in throughout Deraspe’s documentary, as a camera follows an actress playing Amina through the streets. With the film running only 84 minutes, these moments feel inessential to telling Sandra and Amina’s story, which is shared more eloquently through interviews with Sandra, as well as the other activists and journalists who invested themselves in Amina. The story at the heart of “A Gay Girl in Damascus” is engrossing enough and doesn’t require the extra padding. [B]