Layla is a struggling Arab drag queen whose confident façade hides their desperate desire for love. When their performance at a belittling corporate Pride event turns into a transgressive takedown, they are surprised to catch the eye of marketing executive Max, whose attentions sweep Layla off their feet. The two start an intoxicating romance, but as Layla starts to alter who they are in order to keep Max’s interest, they both have to face uncomfortable truths.

  • Amrou Al-Kadhi
    Run(a)way Arab, Define Gender: Victoria Sin, Clash, Anemone
  • Amrou Al-Kadhi
    Little America, The Watch, Hollyoaks, Run(a)way Arab, Define Gender: Victoria Sin, Clash, Anemone
  • Savannah James-Bayly
    Queens of Mystery, Run(a)way Arab, Define Gender: Victoria Sin, Clash, Anemone
  • Nina Yang Bongiovi
    Executive Producers
    Sorry to Bother You, Fruitvale Station, Passing
  • Forest Whitaker
    Executive Producers
    Sorry to Bother You, Fruitvale Station, Passing
  • Mary Burke
    Executive Producers
    Submarine, God's Own Country, Saint Maud, Berberian Sound Studio
  • Kevin M Lin
    Executive Producers
    Passing, Shaky Shivers, Artificial
  • Michael Y Chow
    Executive Producers
    Sorry to Bother You, Dope, Fruitvale Station
  • Farhana Bhula
    Executive Producers
    How to Have Sex, Scrapper, Pirates
  • Louise Ortega
    Executive Producers
    American Hero
  • Bilal Hasna
    Key Cast
    Extraordinary, Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim
  • Louis Greatorex
    Key Cast
    Last Tango in Halifax, Safe, Masters of the Air
  • Safiyya Ingar
    Key Cast
  • Darkwah
    Key Cast
  • Terique Jarrett
    Key Cast
  • Sarah Agha
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    romance, drama, LGBTQ+, comedy
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 38 minutes 39 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 6, 2023
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom
  • Language:
    Arabic, English
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • WME
    Sales Agent
  • Independent Entertainment
    Sales Agent
Director Biography - Amrou Al-Kadhi

Amrou Al-Kadhi is a writer, director and drag performer.

Amrou has written and directed four short films, all centring queer people of colour. They have been broadcast on PBS, NOWNESS, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Revry and BFI-Player and have played at BAFTA & Oscar-qualifying festivals internationally.

As a screenwriter, Amrou co-wrote the final episode of Apple’s Little America, which The Hollywood Reporter called ‘the show’s pinnacle,’ and named as one of the best 10 episodes of television in 2020; this episode has also won a Glaad award, with the series nominated for Best New Scripted Series at the Independent Spirit awards, and Best International series at the BAFTAs.

Amrou was also a writer on BBC America’s series, The Watch, and has sold pilot scripts to FX Productions, ABC and BBC Drama. Amrou is currently writing on Emerald Fennell’s upcoming Showtime series.

In 2019, Al-Kadhi published their memoir "Unicorn", which won the Polari First Book Prize and the Somerset Maugham award, and is being adapted by Amrou with Universal Studios in the United States and The Forge Entertainment producing in the UK.

They have contributed regularly for publications including The Guardian, The Independent, and Attitude Magazine.

Amrou is an internationally renowned drag queen by the name of Glamrou; their 4* Guardian reviewed show played multiple sold out runs in the main space of the Soho Theatre in London, and has toured America, including LA's Dynasty Typewriter and New York's Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre.

Amrou is represented by CAA in the United States, and United Agents in the UK.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

I made Layla because I want the world to have an unapologetically joyous queer fairytale. Trauma is so much at the centre of our stories on screen – and our reactionary political climate is contributing to a violent dehumanisation of queer lives.

In the current cultural landscape, it feels like a radical act to tell a story that celebrates the queer experience with unbridled joy and optimism. The aesthetic of Layla is a love-letter to the spirit of drag; the production design, costumes and make up are an ode to the tenacity of queer creativity, of dreaming beyond what is possible, whilst also celebrating the mess of imperfection. In Layla, we have striven to visually and tonally construct an accessible fairytale, one that feels of this world, yet a dream nonetheless.

Within what I hope will be an uplifting film for many, sits a story that explores the conflict between desire and identity. Our romantic lives are often where our deepest vulnerabilities are revealed, and through Layla & Max's romance, we chart Layla’s emotional journey as they learn self-worth cannot be derived from others, and that only by expressing yourself authentically can you open yourself to genuine love, however exposing that may feel.

When we meet Layla, they have a deeply fractured sense of self. At times outgoing, witty, bold - audiences may even be persuaded by their confident drag persona - we’ll soon see how much Layla is willing to compromise their authenticity off stage in the search for love. Non-conformity, though sometimes perceived to the outside world as defiance, doesn’t mean we don’t also long for the safety of acceptance, and the contradiction between Layla’s confident façade and their emotional fragility, rooted in their complicated relationship with their Muslim family, is a rarely portrayed duality of queer expression.

When they first meet, Layla is shocked that Max seems to like their eccentric femininity, but soon it’s clear that he only likes it in private, in queer spaces and undercover of dark. When their relationship forces Max to become aware of his privileges and also limitations, he feels uncomfortable. So Layla does what comes naturally to a queer person of colour (especially one who has to pretend that they are a heterosexual cisgender man to family) - they adjust their behaviour in order to accommodate him.

The impact of this code-switching on Layla’s sense of self is at the heart of the film. We want audiences to feel the exhaustion of constantly spinning plates of identity, and to mirror that in the tone of the film too: blending rom-com beats, with dramatic coming-of-age-story moments, and the lively acerbic wit of their friendships, the film is as aesthetically and tonally intersectional as Layla themselves.

I have long been obsessed with the work of Almodovar, and how he visually builds a world that is inherently queer without commentary. Florists are drag queens, nuns sleep with drag queens – none of it commented upon, for we are just immersed within a queer universe. And I have long admired Todd Haynes, especially for his film Carol, and how he gives queer characters the cinematic grandeur that has so long been robbed from them. In Layla, we were blessed to have queer HODS leading almost every department, and we wanted to build a world that felt almost fantastical in its queerness. The film is a love letter to the creative spirit of drag, and that is what we wanted to show in our filmic choices – like a drag queen is able to create couture out of anything, we strived to take the resources we had for an independent first feature, and to stretch them to give audiences a cinematic queer feast. All of the characters wear costumes and live in locations beyond their means, and each location is designed as an ode to drag – they are of a certain scale that might be beyond what’s possible, and we both revel in that, and also reveal the architecture of these designs, much like a drag queen creates a fantasy whilst revealing the scaffold of that fantasy.

The queer community has always responded to adversity with joy - as an Arab drag performer myself, comedy has been my main coping mechanism to deal with the trauma that the world has thrust on me. Layla lives at this intersection of hilarity and tragedy, at times hopeful yet sometimes cynical, like an ever-shifting queer organism that cannot be defined into one thing.

Thematically, I am fascinated by this link between desire and politics. Who and how we desire can be warped by living in a system that, whether we like it or not, shapes the way the world informs and receives the relationships we find ourselves in. Layla & Max's relationship, though full of surprise, genuine love and intimacy, is one warped by socio-political forces that act as hurdles to them truly being together. Both view each other as symbols as much as they do people; race, class, gender and privilege affect the way they view each other, and sometimes what feels like genuine desire starts to feel like fetishisim, which will ask challenging questions of our audience, who we hope will both will the relationship to work, but also be disconcerted by its charged complexities.

Misogyny and racism have long plagued the gay scene, but both the UK and USA has seen a sharp swell in anti-trans rhetoric in the past few years, and these fractures in the queer community are becoming more entrenched. This film celebrates authentic trans and non-binary representation, whilst also showing how Max and Layla are both victim to the same societal pressures. Max feels trapped by the huge risk of giving up his privileges as a white, masculine guy; Layla fights to be accepted into a system that finds them monstrous, until they realise that the system itself is broken.