Syria: a war-ravaged country that’s become a signifier for destruction, refugees, terror, death, death, and death during its five-year conflict.
But Antonio Suleiman, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee who fled to Germany in 2012, hopes to change people’s perception of Syrians and refugees – through porn.
He hopes to show the ‘Syrian body’ as a body which makes love, rather than merely being seen bloodied, under rubble, or torn into shreds.
Suleiman never planned to be a porn star. He always dreamed of becoming an artist who produces meaningful content for the public, rather than being a product for sexual satisfaction.
With James Deen.
But after fleeing war and fleeing to Germany, the actor describes how he at last decided to use his body to express himself through pornography, after he was excluded from other means of expression.
“I was stuck in a dead end,” he says.
The Local Voices talked to Suleiman about his life since unwillingly applying for refuge in Germany. We asked why he decided to work as a pornographic actor, what drove him to choose this job at such a young age, and if he’s convinced by his work.
Why did you choose Germany and what have you done since arriving?
I was still underage when I arrived in Germany. I didn’t want to settle down there; I hoped to move to either the UK, or the US, because they are famous for their performing arts, and I thought the chances there to get into the filmmaking industry would be much higher than in Germany.
But Stuttgart’s airport customs caught me while I was boarding to fly to the UK in 2012 – I was planning to go to the US afterwards – and I was forced to have my fingerprints taken.
After that, I re-considered my situation. I spent the first year learning German, and learning about Germany – but still wanting to move to the US.
When, how, and why did you decide to work as a pornographic actor?
In Syria I always wanted to become a (non-pornographic) actor. Performing on stage or in movies has always been my dream.
I kept following this dream in Germany, but I soon discovered that it wasn’t easy at all. I contacted institutions, companies, producers, actors and directors about getting training, or getting into the industry in any possible way.
Once they found out I was Syrian, their replies were immediately either “bye” or “We may contact you later” (which meant the same thing).
All the doors were shut because of my nationality.
There’s a kind of discrimination against refugees within the German community. Many Syrians in Germany claim that there’s no racism, and that everything is good. I think they are lying to themselves.
After giving up on the performing arts in Germany, I started looking for any possible job. I searched in all different industries, but they all asked for degrees and specialisms that are far from my reach.
I tried to work as a dishwasher in restaurants, but even with a job that doesn’t require skills or a degree, I couldn’t find anything.
I decided to join the porn industry – here again I was refused for being a ‘Syrian refugee’.
With porn, I thought I would be easily accepted, but I was proved wrong. Whenever German producers found out I was Syrian, I was met with negativity and refusal yet again.
The solution turned out to be contacting a UK producer under a German name. I knew that in Germany, they’d discover I was faking my identity, but in the UK, they wouldn’t.
I contacted a producer and asked for a chance. He asked for erotic pictures, so I took some with a girl at home and sent them to him. He asked me to prepare myself for casting in Amsterdam. That was in 2014, when I had turned 18 years old.
A month after the casting in Amsterdam I was sent to Belgium where I acted in two movies and got €500 for each, but I was never contacted for shooting again. After three months, I found that everyone I had worked with was doing new movies, but I had been sidelined.
'No genuine Arab porn movies'
I decided to take matters into my own hands and shoot a porn film where the actor and the film were genuinely Arabian – not like what you see on the internet, where all the so-called Arab porn is actually non-Arabian and fake.
I thought that by acting in typical porn movies, I won’t be presenting anything new, but with The Arabian King, which I shot in Barcelona, I would be challenging others’ perceptions and, at the same time, presenting a professional Arab pornography.
Now I only work for American producers because they are open for accepting others – Germans are not.
How do you find the work as a porn actor?
It’s a totally different world. Sex on set is just work, and not really sex like when you’re dating – there’s no euphoria in pornography. It’s not easy at all, and for the actor it can be harder than for the porn actress.
I can’t say that I’m really happy doing this work, but still, it’s better than my life in Germany was before.
Many of your Syrian compatriots said that you work as a porn actor for the fame and publicity. What’s your reply to that?
It’s absolutely true.
Yes, I want to become famous, and I want to become an actor who performs in movies or on stage. I chose pornography because I found no other choice in Germany.
When you first shared your own porn movie, you posted a photo on social media holding both your Syrian passport and the German travel document, while talking about the porn film. What did you intend to show?
Firstly, being photographed with your passport is a compulsory procedure in the porn industry. The production company presents these pictures to buyers as proof of the artist’s age and identity.
Secondly, I wanted to post it not to use the label ‘refugee’ for publicity, but rather to send a provocative message to German racists.
To those who refused to accept me and define me as ‘Syrian’, and always defined me simply as a ‘refugee’. This has made me very sad in Germany - whenever I meet someone and tell them I am Syrian, they reply: “Ah yes, a Syrian refugee.”
This was a message to everyone: “I am a ‘Syrian refugee’ who now works as a ‘porn actor’.”
Are you proud of your movie The Arabian King?
I think in terms of porn industry, the movie is good. It’s just a start, and you can’t compare such a movie with another produced in Hollywood, for example.
What was your family’s reaction to you becoming a porn actor?
They were angry and said that I brought shame to the whole family.
However, my friends stood by me and supported me.
Some Syrians have criticized you, saying your film was an extra violation to the ‘Syrian body’, which has already been widely degraded. What’s your comment on that?
That’s not true. I didn’t mean to ridicule anyone. I used my body, which is mine to use as I like. After launching The Arabian King I read some comments on social media, but then I stopped.
Our community can be very negative; they always bombard you with criticism whatever you do.
I can’t understand why acting in a porn movie would shame Syrians or refugees. I think it’s better to have sex, than to make war.
For over five years now, Syrians have mainly been pictured under rubble, massacred, their dead bodies in the Mediterranean, or humiliated throughout their perilous journey to Europe. Surely that’s what degrades and violates the ‘Syrian body’.
Yes, I used my body. I used it to show that this body can make love, can have sex, and does not only exist in order to die.
What are your plans for the future?
My dream is to become a movie star and not a porn actor. I hope I will get the chance to move to the US to do so – I also think Americans are more tolerant.
The fact that I’m now working as a pornographic actor doesn’t mean I’ll stop working towards this. I want to perform in scenes where I convey meaning, and not merely act to sexually excite viewers.
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