Part of the programming we had planned for Muslim Journeys is a series of film screenings that we will hold during the Spring semester of 2014. All the films chosen by the University of Redlands Muslim Journeys Advisory Group were selected because they highlight the Points of View theme of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. Also, they were film titles that were not part of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, but greatly enhanced the theme we had selected.
The first film we showed was My Name Is Khan, a 2010 Indian film that was directed by Karan Johar and stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. The film is quite long, running 161 minutes. The film is a fictionalized account of an Indian Muslim man named Rizwan Khan with Asperger’s Syndrome, who immigrates from India to the United States. There, he meets the love of his life, Mandira, who has a son, Sam, from a previous marriage. Mandira eventually returns his affections and they marry. After some blissful years, a tragedy strikes Khan’s family. This sends him on a quest that makes the phrase he repeats–“My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist.”–very poignant. The film is primarily in Urdu, which requires English-only audiences to read the subtitles.
We had a film discussion after the screening. It was led by Dr. Priya Jha, associate professor of English at the University of Redlands. A film scholar, Dr. Jha focused on the film’s themes and the nuances of representations portrayed in the film. She also talked about the making of the film, providing the audience with some background information on Indian cinema and the specific screenwriter and director of My Name Is Khan. One theme that I was extremely glad that Dr. Jha mentioned was the strong tie to the African-American civil rights movement through the song “We Shall Overcome.” This was a running theme throughout the lengthy film.
We showed this film at the University of Redlands on Thursday, January 23, 2014, right before I was scheduled to leave for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting 2014 (ALAMW14) in Philadelphia, PA. There, I participated in a focus group hosted by the National Endowment for the Humanities that was mainly on the Muslim Journeys programs that grant recipients were implementing. (More on that in another post.)
There’s a lot to love about this film. There’s also a lot to question. I was really moved by the idyllic portrayal of the main characters’ happy family life. It reminded me of the Filipino cinema that I came to know in my youth. Cheesy, but still comforting. It makes one long for a simpler life, carefree, and without struggle. Then there were the representations of African-Americans in the rural south. I thought that was jarring and disturbing. Remembering that My Name Is Khan is an Indian production, not a Hollywood one, made the caricature of Southern blacks even more disturbing. It made me wonder if the U.S. was exporting, unknowingly or not, disparaging views of African-Americans that are troubling, racist, prejudicial, and downright wrong. Growing up in the Philippines, I did feel smothered by Hollywood idealizations and images. Westernization, at least in the circles I frequented, was considered problematic. A double-edged sword. Democracy, economic and educational development, freedom, and all that. Great. But it was also the source of our subverted identity as a nation, as an independent sovereign people, culturally, politically, and socially. Watching My Name Is Khan brought out all of those old thoughts and feelings from my younger days. Of course, the plot of the film focused on the problematic issues faced by South Asians, whether Muslim or not, within the United States. And the strong link to the African-American Civil Rights Movement complicated matters for me. Still, I was struck by how the film provided us with a slightly different take, a particular point of view, that we may not always get to see in our mainstream media fare within the United States.
The second film we showed under the Muslim Journeys: Points of View series is the 2011 documentary Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football. The film centers on the predominantly Arab-American football team of Fordson High School, as the team practices for their big game against their rival, Dearborn High School, during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting on the Islamic calendar. The footage is from 2009. We showed this film on Thursday, February 6, 2014, the first Thursday after Superbowl 2014. The film was introduced by Leela MadhavaRau, Associate Dean of Campus Diversity & Inclusion, and the after-screening discussion was facilitated by Bill Maury-Holmes, adjunct faculty member of the University of Redlands religious studies department and the Assistant Chaplain.
Some notable facts about this documentary: it was directed and produced by Rashid Ghazi, an alumnus of University of Redlands. Ghazi graduated from the UofR in 1989 with a B.A. in business and sociology. This documentary was shown previously at the UofR in April 2012. He currently lives in Illinois. The film runs 93 minutes long.
I really, really like this film. Not only does it provide us with the intricacies of the meanings of fasting and the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, we are provided with glimpses into how different people within a geographic location determine who Americans are and what constitutes “American-ness.” Though it has been said that baseball is the national past-time, football seems to be the national sport. The Fordson teens seem to be all-American. They may not be Christians or of an Anglo-Saxon ethnic background. But still.
To honor Black History Month, we will be re-showing Prince Among Slaves on Thursday, February 13, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The film will be shown at Gregory Hall 161, at University of Redlands. Based on the historical biography of the same title written by Terry Alford, this narrative documentary follows the life of Abdul Rahman, who was a nobleman from a Muslim West African kingdom, captured, and sold by slave traders to a Mississippi plantation in the 1780s. Rahman’s remarkable story chronicles his quest to free his children and grandchildren.
As with last year’s screening of this film, Dr. Patrick Wing, assistant professor of history at the University of Redlands, will introduce the film and facilitate discussion afterwards.
Abdul Rahman’s story provides us with an interesting link to Islam and West Africa that we often do not think about. We have become so accustomed to thinking of Muslims and Islam as associated with South Asians, Arabs, and Middle Easterners that we forget that a great number of Africans are Muslims, even during the days of American slavery in the late 1700s.
Prince Among Slaves is part of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. The film runs 60 minutes long.
After the Prince Among Slaves film screening, we will be showing the documentary Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, which chronicles the stereotyped and negative images depicting Arabs throughout Hollywood history. Reel Bad Arabs is based on the work of Dr. Jack Shaheen, professor emeritus of mass communications from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. He authored a book with the same title. In fact, the documentary film extends the thesis of the book. Both the book and the documentary film are available for check-out by current faculty, students, and staff of the University of Redlands. Reel Bad Arabs will be screened on Thursday, February 20, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Discussion after the film will be facilitated by Dr. Patrick Wing, assistant professor of history at the University of Redlands.
The fourth film screening for the Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys series is the animated film based on the graphic novel-slash-memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is one of the Points of View books of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf.
The screening of Persepolis is scheduled for Friday, March 21, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the University of Redlands, Casa Loma Room. Leela MadhavaRau, Associate Dean for Campus Diversity & Inclusion, will be introducing and facilitating discussion of the film. The film is a French-American production. The version we will be screening is dubbed in French, so reading English subtitles is part of the viewing experience. The film is 95 minutes long.
I have to say that I absolutely love the animated film Persepolis. While the class issues are glossed over, as one may expect from the recollections of an economically privileged individual, the focus on the complexities of religion and political ideology is palpable. Many criticize Satrapi’s autobiographical work, both the film and the graphic novel, as not depicting the terror and the anxiety associated with the policing that happened in Tehran around the time of the Islamic Revolution. Perhaps. It would be interesting to see what Satrapi thinks of this herself. I thought it was a choice that she, as an author, had to make in order to render her story truthfully and authentically. As the bulk of her telling focused on the concerns she had as a child, and the influences on her impressionable mind while growing up, perhaps the terror wasn’t as immediate for her as they may have been to others. I love the style of animation and the spunk and verve of the young Marji. My daughters love this film as well. Leela is a wonderful, skilled facilitator, and an instructor in the women’s and gender studies department at the University of Redlands. The discussion she will lead for Persepolis is expected to be interesting and intellectually stimulating.
Our fifth and last film screening for the Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys Film Series is the 2011 documentary film 5 Broken Cameras. It was nominated for the 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary and has won several accolades, such as the 2012 Best Documentary Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the 2012 World Cinema Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and the 2011 Special Broadcaster IDFA Audience Award and the 2011 Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Beyond its acclaim by film critics and juries, 5 Broken Cameras is a Palestinian-Israeli-French production, co-directed by Emad Burnat, the Palestinian farmer in the documentary, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli documentary filmmaker.
While 5 Broken Cameras is more political than religious, it does enhance our view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a major issue of concern that often gets conflated with Islam and Muslims. 5 Broken Cameras tells the story of Emad and provides us with his point of view of the conflict in the West Bank, where the documentary is set. Emad bought his first camera to record his youngest son, Gibreel, and his growing years. Sounds like something I, or any parent, would do, doesn’t it?
5 Broken Cameras will be shown at the University of Redlands, Gregory Hall 161, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Discussion after the film screening will be facilitated by the University Chaplin, John Walsh. The film runs for 94 minutes and is dubbed mostly in Arabic, with some Hebrew. Reading English subtitles is part of the viewing experience. There are some parts of the film that depict or hint at the violence common for the subject matter. I was disturbed by them, yes. But I didn’t find them gratuitous or unnecessary. In fact,I think they enhanced the authenticity of the documentary. 5 Broken Cameras is definitely not a feel-good movie. However, it is illuminating and worth watching.
All the Muslim Journeys film screenings are free and open to the public. The Muslim Journeys series is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in cooperation with the American Library Association (ALA). Local support is provided by the University of Redlands Campus Diversity & Inclusion, Peace Academy, and A.K. Smiley Public Library.