leena manimekalai

Toronto filmmaker bombarded with death threats gets her revenge

A Toronto filmmaker has finally had her latest film screened in the city after it spawned online bullying — the point of death threats against her — and calls that it be censored.

Leena Manimekalai's performance documentary Kaali, starring the filmmaker and York University grad student as the Hindu goddess of the same name (more often spelled Kali), was pulled this summer from a Toronto Metropolitan University's Under the Tent screening series focusing on multiculturalism.

The institution was responding to public outrage over a poster Manimekalai shared for the film that showed Kali smoking a cigarette and holding a pride flag, something some considered an affront to the figure and to Hinduism generally.

She was called disrespectful, Hinduphobic, told to have some shame, and has been harassed for months as a result.

There were also calls for the film to be banned, and her Indian passport revoked. She also faced a summons and legal injunction from the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi.

But, Manimekala was finally able to screen her film this Thursday evening — four months after the initial incident — at the originally planned location of the Aga Khan Museum, in collaboration with Toronto Metropolitan University, which backstepped from its initial decision.

The  sold-outevent, which also featured another of the creative's films, was sponsored by the Centre for Free Expression, PEN Canada, the Poetic Justice Foundation and other champions of free speech and creative expression as a protest against censorship.

Along with finally getting to show her work to the public, Manimekala has also named artist-in-residence at the CFE at TMU.

While many are still enraged at the artist — who identifies as a queer feminist — and her chosen depiction of the goddess, she has said she "feels less alone now," while the TMU Centre for Free Expression has added that the attacks against her and the resulting pulling of her film were "wholly inappropriate."

"It's really important in the academic world to stand up to that attack on academic frreedom and artistic freedom," the centre's director said.

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