top of page


Leila - BFI Flare

average rating is 5 out of 5


Amber Jackson


Posted on:

Mar 23, 2023

Film Reviews
Leila - BFI Flare
Directed by:
Fariba Haidari
Written by:
Fariba Haidari
Leila herself

Content warning: scenes containing discrimination towards a transgender person, references to gender dysphoria and sexual assault.


‘A portrait of an unforgettable transgender schoolteacher in Herat, Afghanistan, who shines even with the prospect of the Taliban’s return.’


Leila is a vibrant and kind-hearted sixty-four year old transgender woman who is permanently navigating and negotiating her life in Afghanistan. Filmed just three months before the Taliban retook control of the country, Leila is a Dari-language short film that handles the search for safe spaces and the hard-hitting reality for transgender-identifying people across the world. Filmed in a documentary style and focused purely on Leila’s lived experience in Herat in the weeks leading up to the takeover, this is a poignant and powerful film that raises awareness for trans people needing community and safe spaces across the world.


The film shows another side to Afghanistan and its landscape that UK audiences have seldom seen. Leila herself provides viewers with an introspective look into a society through a transgender lens. Whilst we see her experiencing enjoyment and entertainment in the place that she calls home, we also see the daily struggle of how she is not accepted by those within her community and wider society. Men do not embrace her because they see her as ‘inferior’ because of her femininity, as well as women not accepting her into their communities because they do not view her as a woman. Leila speaks to a conflict that she cannot win and how there continues to be no safe place for her. She speaks candidly and honestly throughout the film, stating that “there are 30-40 transgender people in Herat who hide their identities. What have we done wrong to deserve this?”


Leila’s career as a schoolteacher is also captured on screen, including the faces of young girls that she educates every day shown. They are happy and enjoy learning and playing outside. In scenes that are haunting and incredibly moving in hindsight, Leila speaks of aiming to help these girls build a future for themselves through the power of education. You cannot help but wonder where these girls are today. This is how the film also speaks to wider issues of women in Afghanistan, as in addition to Leila’s voice being captured, many other marginalised voices are too, such as women and people with disabilities that Leila visits.


Concerning gender, Leila shares first-hand experiences on the changes that they have seen in their lifetime. She candidly shares her thoughts on society, as well as their gender identity journey and hopes to further transition. Fortunately, the documentary reveals that Leila managed to leave Afghanistan and is now seeking asylum in a country where she feels safer. Yet, also acknowledged is the devastating hardships that transgender people face in Afghanistan, especially under Taliban rule. It speaks to a worrying reality that transgender people continue to fight to exist openly and without fear across the world.


Leila is a beautifully formed documentary that advocates for all transgender people. It should not be missed.

About the Film Critic
Amber Jackson
Amber Jackson
Short Film, World Cinema, Film Festival, LGBTQ+, Documentary
bottom of page