“Layla” Breaks Norms and Finds Love at Sundance 2024

Premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, this debut directorial venture by renowned non-binary Muslim drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi introduces audiences to a character whose journey is as enchanting as it is relatable.

“Layla” Breaks Norms and Finds Love at Sundance 2024
Bilal Hasna stars as the titular Layla in Amrou Al-Kadhi's feature film debut. Photo source: © Fox Club Films

In the dazzling world of drag where glitter meets struggle, "Layla" (2024) emerges as a heartfelt tale that defies conventions and celebrates the complexities of queer identity. Premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, this debut directorial venture by renowned non-binary Muslim drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi introduces audiences to a character whose journey is as enchanting as it is relatable.

The film centers around Layla (Bilal Hasna), a non-binary drag performer from a Muslim family navigating the challenges of love and acceptance. From the opening scene, where Layla's outrage over being paid in coupons instead of real money sets the stage, the audience is drawn into a world of resilience, passion and self-discovery.

As Layla struggles to find love that embraces all facets of their identity, the narrative takes unexpected turns. Online encounters fall apart when partners can't comprehend the entirety of Layla's persona. However, hope flickers in the form of Max (Louis Greatorex), who becomes quickly intrigued by Layla. A trip to a queer nightclub sets the stage for a night of magic and rooftop romance.

"Layla" is a beautifully wounded exploration of queer identity and relationships, mirroring the vulnerabilities of its protagonist. Layla's journey unfolds against the backdrop of family struggles, societal expectations and the delicate dance of unveiling one's true self. The film delicately weaves together moments of sweetness and sadness, propelled by the impressive chemistry between Hasna and Greatorex.

The storyline delves into the intricacies of Layla's non-binary identity, confronting the challenges of being accepted for who they are. The film captures Layla's fear that Max may not love them as they truly are, a fear rooted in the harsh reality of societal expectations and personal insecurities.

While "Layla" follows the familiar path of a romantic drama, it stands out with moments of subversion and unexpected twists. Al-Kadhi injects a dash of salaciousness, giving the audience memorable scenes that challenge the norm.

More than a love story, "Layla" is a character study, revealing the flaws, mistakes and growth of its titular character. The film's success lies in its specificity, portraying a non-binary Muslim drag performer's journey with authenticity and grace. Hasna's performance is poised to be a breakout role, marking a highly successful debut for Al-Kadhi at Sundance.

"Layla" is an intimate and sensual indie romance that captivates with its specificity and challenges societal norms. With a brilliant performance by Hasna and Al-Kadhi's deft direction, "Layla" emerges as a successful debut, leaving audiences eager for what the talented duo has in store for the future.

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