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Film / The World Unseen

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The World Unseen is a 2007 historical drama written and directed by Shamim Sarif (of I Can't Think Straight fame) and starring Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth.

In 1950's South Africa, during the early days of apartheid rule, meek, subservient housewife Miriam encounters Amina, the bold and headstrong leader of the Location Cafe, which flouts apartheid laws by serving everyone, regardless of race. When Amina takes a job working on Miriam's family farm, while sheltering Miriam's sister-in-law (who is wanted for marrying a white man, in violation of the laws against mixed-race marriages), Miriam becomes increasingly attracted to Amina, but must hide her attraction from her jealous husband Omar.

This film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Bi: It's never explicitly stated where Miriam falls on the sexuality spectrum, given that she's married to Omar but gets into a relationship with Amina having never (so far as we know) found women attractive before.
  • Blithe Spirit: Amina is a free spirited young woman who dresses in masculine clothing, runs a business and violates the apartheid laws (while also secretly being a lesbian). She stands out completely in the conservative South African Indian community, and shakes up Miriam's life drastically.
  • Child by Rape: Amina's mother was conceived as a result of her grandmother being raped by a Black man. She was blamed for this, beaten by her male relatives and sent off to India.
  • Chocolate Baby: Amina relates that her mother was recognized to have Black ancestry when she was born, given her features and skin color differed from the Indians. This was due to her grandmother being raped by a Black man.
  • Closet Key: Miriam falls for Amina, despite having a husband, making her realize she's attracted to (at least some) women.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film takes place in South Africa in the 1950's, and does not gloss over the racism from that era, even among the Indian community, who look down on Amina because of her mixed ancestry. Same-sex relationships of any kind are prohibited and taboo.
  • Forbidden Love:
    • Omar's sister Rehmat married a White man. This is illegal under the apartheid laws, and so in South Africa they're pursued by the police.
    • Amina and Miriam get into an equally taboo same-sex relationship.
    • Jacob also has a mutual attraction with Madeleine, a kind White woman who manages the local post office. This is taboo and illegal given that he's mixed race.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Miriam's fling with Amina is treated sympathetically, because she's unhappy with Omar, Amina is presented as being kind and gentle with her, and her pursuit of Amina does not interfere with her ability to care for her children. On the other hand, Omar's affair with Farah is treated less sympathetically, because it is taking him away from his duties to his family.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Amina gets gossiped about negatively by Indians because she has some Black ancestry.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: One of the policeman slaps Amina and angrily calls her a queer after she mentions women being in her room.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage:
    • Omar's sister Rehmat married a White man, which is prohibited under the Apartheid laws. This gets her in trouble with the police, which leads to Amina offering her shelter when she is being sought by them.
    • Jacob and Madeleine's romance is another example, as he's mixed race while she's White.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Amina is a tomboy who always wears shirts and trousers (when not pressured into wearing feminine clothing by family), while being an independent, bold woman. She's also running a business, which was considered a male activity when it's set. Miriam, her secret lover, is a dutiful housewife who is shy and submissive, while only ever wearing dresses.
  • Queer Romance: The film is a historical drama about a married housewife in South Africa during The Apartheid Era who falls for a rebellious female cafe owner.
  • Police Brutality: The White South African police are quite brutal, hitting people freely and threatening Miriam with having her children taken away to get information.
  • Secretly-Gay Activity: Miriam and Amina use their "driving lessons" as a pretense to meet up and pursue their relationship behind the back of Miriam's jealous husband.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Miriam and Amina keep their relationship a secret, not only because Miriam's married, but that it's same-sex (highly taboo in early 1950s South Africa).
    • Jacob and Madeleine can only date secretly due to being an interracial couple, which is illegal. He reluctantly concludes it will never work after nearly being caught by a policeman.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Amina is quite an independent woman: single, running a business, wearing more masculine clothing (for the time-pants and shirts), while defying social norms through flouting apartheid laws plus being secretly a lesbian. These are considered quite unfeminine things for women in early 1950s South Africa. Miriam meanwhile is quite the proper housewife, dutifully taking care of her children and always wearing dresses, acting as was considered proper for women. They get into a relationship.