“Women in the Dark,” a short documentary that was created, filmed and starred by Shameelah Khan in 2015, provides a poignant response to what is typically a taboo subject. This provocative documentary has been screened in festivals including Scotland’s The African in Motion Film Festival as well as Sweden’s CinemAfrica Film Festival and Uppsala International Short Film Festival.
It also went on to win best documentary at the Tele Awards at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Women in the Dark” follows three Muslim women from the same family spanning three generations in South Africa. They discuss sexuality, marriage, divorce and singledom, embracing their sexuality and experiences without shame for a fresh perspective.
The film discusses the ideological framework of marriage in Islam on one hand, and interrogates the idea of sexuality and the male gaze in cinema on the other. The filmmaker herself begins a journey of sexual exploration and self-agency. It is only through the generational lens of her grandmother and mother’s opposing views that she begins to unpack her sexuality and autonomy.
This is a personal self-reflexive experimental documentary. Muslim women are raised with little understanding about their bodies and often times excluded from sexual education as a result of their parent’s fears of exposure at an early age. But this documentary’s themes of touching, intimacy, sex, taboo and gender expectations of the Muslim women are threaded throughout. More importantly, it is a reclamation of one’s feminine side–at the heart of the film is the revelation that the Muslim female body exists within space, and it contains an identity and a movement of pleasure. It envokes questioning and paradoxes of self. It is not a documentary on Islam, but rather on Muslim women and their existence.
Shameelah Khan has completed two postgraduate honor degrees from The University of Witwatersrand in Film, Visual and Performing Arts and the second in Creative Writing. She then continued her education and attained an undergrad degree in Psychology. Recently, Shameelah took up Islamic sciences and female studies at the Lady Aisha College in Cape Town.
Currently, she is the co-director of an online arts magazine called Odd and a production course administrator and lecturer at AFDA, Johannesburg.