Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Docu-Comedy Explores Diversity in “The Muslims Are Coming!

By Katherine Stephens
Gordon College News Service
Sept. 24, 2013
(This story appeared Sept. 27, 2013, in the Somerville Your Town site of the Boston Globe.)

SOMERVILLE, MA—They traveled all over the country hosting stand up comedy routines and waving their “Hug a Muslim” posters proudly. Now, comedians and filmmakers, Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, are coming to the Boston area to screen their new film, The Muslims are Coming.

The film uses comedy to combat prejudices and stereotypes placed on Muslim-Americans. Organizers of National Welcoming Week in Massachusetts—which is part of a national movement called Welcoming America that highlights the contributions of immigrants—knew the film was a good fit with their theme this year, “Uniting Neighbors, Celebrating Diversity.” They decided to partner with the filmmakers to sponsor the screening, along with other events, during its Welcome Week.

The Muslims are Coming opens Friday, September 27 at the Somerville Theatre, with a question and answer time with Farsad and Obeidallah to follow. The documentary’s world release was last October at the Austin Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award, and was re-released this year in Chicago on September 12. It has screened already this month in New York and Los Angeles, and runs in Somerville through October 3.

“What we’re trying to do is create a different cultural concept for Muslim Americans,” Farsad said during a phone interview. “We have these associations that Muslims are dusty people walking down the street with AK-47’s (and) just constantly violent. When in reality, Muslims can look like me. They can be stand up comedians, or really bad at bowling, who knows?”
Welcoming America officially formed in 2009 to bring diverse communities together, connect neighbors, and to welcome immigrants into their new home. Its National Welcoming Week’s events are Sept. 15-22 and the organization’s biggest of the year. Twenty-two states have planned over 100 events across the country during the week. But the Massachusetts chapter extended the week to host more events, like The Muslims are Coming.

“Their [Farsad and Obeidallah’s] approach on using comedy to highlight the differences that make communities stronger and the values that are similar matches perfectly with National Welcoming Week,” said Cristina Aguilera, 31, director of Welcoming Massachusetts. “Communities should integrate and get to know more about each other. It’s good to know more in a light hearted way.”

Aguilera hopes the film and other local efforts will help break down barriers in diverse communities, like Somerville, which she says has seen a lot of change in demographics recently. She sees the film’s message of comedy as a tool that can start positive conversations and bring diverse traditions together.

Picture Motion, a New York City-based organization, helped publicize the documentary and connect its directors with different “grass roots” theaters as well as the Massachusetts Welcoming Week organizers. Christie Marchese, 29, founder of Picture Motion, said her goal is to get people into theatres to see films that will inspire audiences to act, and thinks The Muslims are Coming is that kind of a film.

“There are a few bits in the film, where the filmmakers set up a table that says, ‘Ask a Muslim,’ like let’s break down that barrier; if you have questions, we’re here; we’re not that different from you, so let’s just have a conversation,” said Marchese. “The film is perfect for Welcoming Week.”

Farsad agrees and hopes the film, as well as local efforts throughout the Boston area, can create an environment where Muslims feel more welcome and open about their identity.

“This movie is trying to do that, so it made a lot of sense to partner with Welcoming America Week, whose whole aim is to create an environment where it’s okay to be an immigrant, it’s safe to be an immigrant, you know what your rights are,” she said. “It’s critical to have a force like Welcoming America (and Massachusetts Welcoming Week) that can provide different kinds of services for immigrants.”


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