American Arab to air on America Reframed

Usama Alshaibi’s documentary American Arab has its national television premiere on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, at 8 p.m. on WORLD Channel, as part of the fourth season of America ReFramed, public media’s newest documentary series. The film, made through Chicago production collective Kartemquin Films (makers of The Interupters), will be available for free streaming on starting February 10, 2016.

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In American Arab, Iraqi-American Director Usama Alshaibi asks “Why is being an Arab suddenly the opposite of being a decent man?” Throughout the documentary, Alshaibi explores what it’s like to occupy the ‘space in between’ as a hyphenated American, specifically of Arab origin, during the surge of anti-Muslim sentiment that arose in post 9-11 America.

“In this film, I wanted to show real people living their lives, and I also wanted it to be something that young people can watch and benefit from,” said Alshaibi. “I think anyone that comes from the Middle East that comes from mixed ethnicity, that has a name that is Muslim or Arab, was affected after 9/11. I shared this story to make some sense of what we all went through.”

Alshaibi offers a path for empathy while rendering a portrait familiar to those seeking and struggling to find their place in America. In a quest for the source of internalized pain in the face of discrimination, he digs and pokes to expose a long history of Hollywood images and media stereotypes of Arab men as sex craved buffoons, angry terrorists, “camel jockeys” and the butt of racist jokes.

The Alshaibi family came to America because Usama’s dad, a professor, refused to work for Saddam Hussein and was persecuted in Iraq. Their mother, Maha, reflects on the irony of having struggled for 10 years to become an American, to offer her children a new country with freedom, and a safe home, only to emerge as the “enemy” when her new country, America enters war with Iraq.

Alshaibi reflects on his childhood, a time when he never thought of himself as having any ethnicity at all. To reaffirm this notion of normalcy, he visits with college buddies in Iowa City who didn’t perceive him radically differently, but at the same time celebrated him for his “exotic otherness.” Later, Alshaibi shares how he became increasingly embarrassed by his Arab roots, and forged a new identity as an artsy teen interested in “hard-core punk, weird film and all things subculture.”

Alshaibi becomes a new father, coinciding with the end of Ramadan, when his daughter Muneera (Arabic for ‘brilliant’) Cinema Alshaibi is born. Maha, her grandmother, hopes the newest member of her family will enjoy a mix of “a new culture”: no hijab, no limits, free, proud of her varied heritage and, with the ability to make her own way.

“AmDoc is thrilled to collaborate with WORLD Channel and WGBH on the fourth season of America ReFramed. As co-producers, we share a passion for storytellers committed to helping us gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of America today,” says Justine Nagan, Executive Director, American Documentary, Inc.

American Arab world premiered at IDFA, and had its US premiere at Big Sky Doc Fest, before screening at Chicago Underground Film Festival (where it received an special jury honorable mention), Cleveland International Film Festival, Minneapolis / St. Paul Film Festival, and more festivals and community screenings. It is available on DVD and VOD.

America ReFramed is a co-production of the WORLD Channel and American Documentary, Inc. and is hosted by journalist Natasha Del Toro.

Season four of America ReFramed curates a diverse selection of films highlighting innovative and artistic approaches to storytelling from emerging to veteran filmmakers alike. Viewers will be immersed in personal stories from the streets of towns big and small to the exurbs and country roads that span the spectrum of American life. The documentaries invite audiences to reflect on topics as varied as culture, healthcare, politics, gun violence, religion and more. Several episodes feature a roundtable discussion moderated by host Natasha Del Toro with special guest commentators and filmmakers.

In 2015, America ReFramed won a GRACIE Outstanding Series award, and was nominated for an EMMY award as well as an Independent Documentary Association award for best curated series. In its first season, America ReFramed received five 2013 CINE Golden Eagle Awards, and one Imagen Awards nomination.

[Press Release from Kartemquin Films]

The 25 year anniversary of bombing Iraq

cards_0I was 21 years old and living in Iowa City when daddy Bush announced he was going to bomb my home country Iraq. I also lost my legal status to live in the United States and was being deported back to Iraq. And since I was still an Iraqi citizen, I was being drafted into the Iraqi Army. I was going to be deported to serve alongside Iraqi soldiers to fight American soldiers. It was a death sentence. I was afraid. Eventually I went to immigration court and was granted political asylum in order to live in the United States. I had little choice. Dark days. Years before we escaped the Iran and Iraq war, where the United States was supporting Saddam, only to have to deal with another type of horror in America. There was no safety anymore. I remember being in a bar and I met a soldier that had fought in Operation Desert Storm. He said it was justified in killing Iraqi civilians because they were all ‘faggots’. I felt the hatred around me. I lied about where I was from. I also started hearing people referring to Arabs as ‘sand niggers’. It never stopped and just got worse. And here we are again, bombing the Middle East for over 25 years. Millions of Iraqis lost their lives and continue dying for politicians. Clinton with his soft-murder sanctions, just killed Iraqi children in a different way. The American flags went up, the golden ribbons tied around trees, and the blind and bigoted patriotism was starting to shout. What was it all for? Oil and power. And the lies to the poor working class families that they need to send their children to war because of: Freedom, God, Patriotism… it was all bullshit. War for greed and coroporations. We learn nothing. I have never seen peace in my life.