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Jewish Filmmaker Gives US Muslims a Voice

WASHINGTON – Rejecting President Trump’s Muslim ban, a Jewish filmmaker in California is giving American Muslims a chance to tell their own stories to challenge false narratives and celebrate their diverse community.

“The ban was, to me, an opportunity to get people’s attention, but the thing we’re trying to address has been happening for decades. But when these issues enter the public consciousness, it’s a time to talk about them and a time we don’t want to miss,” Michael Morgenstern told The Washington Post on Thursday, February 15.

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“After Trump’s election, a lot of my friends came together to talk about what can be done. This is a campaign that people can respond to that will target the change we want to see.”

Morgenstern’s move followed the inauguration of President Trump after a campaign full of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The first days for Trump in office witnessed a sharp increase in anti-Muslim attacks, which were followed by an executive order late last month banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

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In a bid to support the Muslim community, Morgenstern reached out to the Islamic Scholarship Fund and suggested creating a fund for Muslim filmmakers.

Contacting Iman Zawahry, a Muslim filmmaker and director of its film grant program, they launched the American Muslim Storytellers grant and kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which ends Feb. 25, in hopes of raising enough money to support several projects.

The suggestion was a dream for Zawahry whose bids for similar projects have been turned down because “America isn’t ready for a Muslim cast” or “there’s too many brown people in this film,” she said.

Her life goal, she said is to “have characters that have the same wants as in any creative story but just happen to be Muslim, they are just relatable stories.”

Zawahry praised the idea saying that films have the power to build empathy and humanize its characters.

By giving Muslims a voice in how their stories are told, there’s a chance to change public perception and prejudice, she said.

They envision short and long films, documentaries, animation or even commercials, that show Muslims as human beings, rather than people to fear, Zawahry said.

This opinion was echoed by Aziz Ansari during his opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live,” in the weekend of the presidential inauguration.

He made the compelling observation that Islamophobia is largely a result of lack of exposure to Muslims beyond how they are portrayed by Hollywood and in the news.

“Maybe what needs to happen is when they do the news report, they should do a second report about some other brown people that are just up to normal stuff — just to calm those people down,” Ansari said.

“A lot of people are Islamophobic … because any time they watch movies and TV shows, and a character is Arabic or they’re praying or something like that, that scary-ass music from ‘Homeland’ is underneath it, it’s terrifying.”