Sirens On Screen: Documenting Lebanon’s First All-Female Metal Band
“When I heard Maya scream for the first time, I remember thinking, where else in society do women get a chance to do this?” LA-based, Emmy-award winning documentary maker Rita Baghdadi is speaking about one of the subjects in her latest film Sirens. Set in Beirut, it follows the powerful story – captured between 2018 and 2021 – of Lilas Mayassi, Shery Bechara, Alma Doumani, Maya Khairallah and Tatyana Boughaba, AKA Slave To Sirens, the first all-female Lebanese metal band.
The journey began with a Skype friendship between Baghdadi and Mayassi, a guitarist, after discovering the band’s music on Facebook. They formed a close bond and Mayassi invited her to Beirut. “I just saw a younger version of myself and thought other people would see themselves in her,” says Baghdadi. “Lilas was unapologetically herself while also struggling with a lot of things. Getting to know her one-on-one made me realise she would be an incredible person to make a film about.”
Mainly focusing on the relationship between Mayassi and fellow guitarist Bechara, the film shows the musicians – Arab women caught up in a tumultuous time in Lebanon’s history – trying to make it under extraordinary circumstances, including a revolution and the unimaginable trauma of the 2020 explosion in the Port of Beirut. The film weaves the story of Lebanon through the eyes of the band, “with the elements of the music, and the politics; everything had to flow through the girls,” says Baghdadi.
For the band members, the unexpected experience of having an LA-based filmmaker follow their story has provided a platform to keep fighting to pursue metal – and inspire more women to do the same. “We want girls watching the film to feel they can do whatever they want without being judged,” says Bechara. Doumani adds, “We have a lot of obstacles, like, ‘Oh, you’re a girl. Why are you in a metal band? You have to be soft and nice.’ But we want them to be courageous, to get out of the box and do what they want.”
Importantly, Sirens breaks away from stereotypes of the Middle East. With her own heritage from the region herself, Baghdadi was adamant the narrative shouldn’t revolve around themes of oppression or conflict. Instead, she captures Slave To Sirens “as real young women just living their lives”.
Pia Brynteson is editorial assistant at Service95
Slave To Sirens; Lilas Mayassi, Shery Bechara ⓒ Oscilloscope Laboratories; Slave To Sirens ⓒ Davina Maria; Lilas Mayassi, Shery Bechara ⓒ Oscilloscope Laboratories; Tatiana el Dahdah, Rita Baghdadi; Rita Baghdadi, Glastonbury (2019)