Response to Alberto Carbajal, Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil
by Wendy Norman
April 27 2016
Recently, Dr Alberto Carbajal presented his paper, ‘Between Gang and Family: Queering Ethnicity and British Muslim Masculinities in Sally el Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil’ at NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre. Carbajal demonstrated how Hosaini’s film challenges typical perceptions of homosexuality and masculinity, as well as ethnicity. The narrative of My Brother the Devil (2012) follows Mo and Rashin, brothers of Egyptian heritage living in Hackney. Rashin leaves his gang and stops selling low-level drunks in order to have a relationship with Sayyid, a French photographer. Jealous of Rashin and Sayyid’s friendship, Mo joins Rashin’s gang as a dealer. Growing ever more suspicious of Rashin and Sayyid’s closeness, Mo goes to Sayyid’s home to see the two men undressed together and realises the true extent of their relationship. Mo continues to become more involved in the gang and upon Rashin finding Mo’s stash of money and drugs, makes a deal with his former gang, agreeing that Mo can leave the gang in exchange of killing a member of a rival gang. The gang discovers Rashin and Sayyid’s homosexual relationship and plans to kill them. In the cross-fire, Mo is shot while protecting his brother.
Although he primarily queered ethnicity and masculinity, I found Carbajal’s demonstration of how My Brother the Devil queers the notion of ‘home’ and ‘family’ an especially interesting concept. Even though the members of the gang are from different ethnicities, they call each other ‘bruv’, ‘cuz’ and ‘fam’, short for brother, cousin, and family. The gang’s notion of ‘family’ seems to transcend biology and ethnicity, showing that these men can choose their family. This, in turn, queers the very notion of ‘family’, a group of people who typically live together, and are bonded through biology or marriage. Moreover, Carbajal queers ethnicity further because London in My Brother the Devil does not belong to one ethnicity. Instead, London belongs to a large group of people from disparate places and ethnicities to the point where ethnicity becomes meaningless. Therefore, we can see that the presentation of London in the film is a site of queering ethnicity and this queering gives a sense of rootedness to all ethnicities.
It is refreshing to see a sympathetic view of young people, especially those like Mo and Rashin, who are on the margins of society. El Hosaini effectively presents this sympathy in her film and Carbajal encapsulated the nuances of My Brother the Devil in his full and enthusiastic analysis. The discussion ultimately brought a refreshing portrayal of young Muslim men into focus by presenting them positively.
Wendy Norman is currently undertaking research on sexuality in Sri Lankan literature, on NTU’s MRes English Literary Research.