Oscar fever…working on Omar the movie

LA screening and Q&A

LA Screening and Q&A

Omar by Hany Abu-Assad…a love story, thriller and a tale about human betrayal and paranoia set against the background of the occupation…in the words of Hany himself. Omar is a very different film than Hany’s last, Paradise Now in 2005, also nominated for an Oscar. Omar is a human story that keeps you on edge and leaves you feeling quite unsettled. I had heard of the film, the buzz it was creating with awards in Cannes and other world-renowned festivals, and it’s nomination for Best Foreign Feature Film…the first ever entry from “Palestine”. When I was asked to be a part of strategic promotional team for the US, and head the grassroots outreach, I was truly excited…and way more so when I actually saw the film and how good it was. It meant a lot to be out there talking about a film that touches us all as people…not just as Palestinians, or even Arabs. It was wonderful to host screening followed by Q&A’s rich with vibrant discussions and insight from Hany, Waleed Zuaiter (producer and one of the stars of Omar), and the young actors, about how this vision of a film became a reality that got the world’s attention…and put the wall and this often forgotten place and people on the forefront of people’s minds without beating them over the head with politics and gloom.

25 Years on the Road Less Traveled

On December 14th, I had the privilege of acting as Mistress of Ceremonies for MPAC’s 13th Annual Convention Banquet, titled 25 Years on the Road Less Traveled“. It’s always so meaningful to be a part of the kinds of events that are making a difference in the Muslim American community, but this was a particularly special evening. Not only was I happy to be a part of celebrating 25 years of MPAC’s work and devotion to the betterment of the lives of Muslims in America, and to making Muslims an integral part of the American fabric, but I was thrilled to see my mentor and friend Dr.Maher Hathout on stage for the first time in a long time. Due to his illness, Dr. Hathout had taken a step back from the spotlight in his role as one of the key leaders of our community. His words, his wisdom, his insight were sorely missed. But MPAC is his brainchild and he made it to the banquet to celebrate with us all! He spoke on stage to a room full of 1000 admirers who, like myself, had missed him so much and were thirsty for his words. And he did not disappoint…with touching words and his amazing humor, he sent us on our way with a healthy dose of inspiration and purpose.

Egypt and the Struggle for Democracy

Last month I was invited to be one of the two LA panelists on America Abroad‘s international town hall “Egypt and the Struggle for Democracy”,with audiences in Los Angeles and Cairo Egypt, which aired on 140 public radio stations including here on KCRW. Audiences in both cities debated what the military’s recent government takeover means for Egypt’s fragile democracy; the Muslim Brotherhood’s future in Egyptian politics and society; the role of Islam in politics and public life; and how Americans perceive recent developments in Egypt. These issues are for obvious reasons, close to my heart, and I was fortunate to be a part of the discussion. As someone who walks the line of both cultures and worlds, I see the different view points and the shades of gray that make this multi-faceted and layered situation so complex. I pray for Egypt and hope for the best…but with a cynical and weary heart.

‘5 Broken Cameras’ at the MPAC Media Awards

As always, it is a pleasure to be a part of the MPAC Media Awards…the excitement of seeing visual works and artists being honored for their ‘voices of courage and conscience’, people in media making a difference in their portrayals of Muslims and in social justice in general. This year, the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘5 Broken Cameras’ was honored. And I had the pleasure to sit down with the director Emad Burnat. It was a fascinating conversation about how this film came into being, and how it grew to something so much larger, ultimately reaching the Academy Awards. This humble family man from a small village beyond the wall in Palestine had a vision to create something to show the world what life is like in an otherwise forgotten place. Watch highlights from our conversations here.

Questions You Were Afraid To Ask About Islam

I recently had the pleasure of moderating a town hall hosted by KPCC and MPAC titled Questions You Were Afraid To Ask About Islam. I think my favorite part was sitting across from my mentor Dr. Maher Hathout and giving people in the audience, as well as the viewers and listeners to come, a window into the conversations that I have with him on a regular basis that have enlightened me as a modern Muslim woman and give me constant renewed faith in the beautiful religion of Islam. The questions were bold, honest and relevant to our lives today. It put a smile on my face and in my heart to see the looks of comprehension and appreciation on the audience members faces, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as they heard his straight forward, blunt and logical answers…” Hey, this man really makes sense!”. I began my intro by telling people not to be fooled by his age. Dr. H can speak to octogenarians and teenagers alike…and possibly impact the teens even more with his reasonable, down-to-earth, progressive interpretations of the scripture that always stem from an underlying base of equality, and justice. All in all, it was a beautiful evening, gratifying for the mind and soul!

Voices of Courage and Conscience

The MPAC Media Awards honoring Voices of Courage and Conscience…sure, I was involved last year, arguably more than this year. Last year, I was a co-emcee. So I was actually involved in most everything. And it was good, very good. We honored The Good Wife, Fordson and Miral, which was naturally dear to my heart because I was involved in the promotional campaign for the film. But I have to say that by all accounts, this year’s Media Awards was something else! Deeply satisfying in a way. It was a beautiful program hosted by Mike Farrell, the honorees were truly meaning, the guests accepting the awards spoke impassioned, heartfelt words and it just really felt like what it was supposed to, like what it set out to do! The honorees- Saving Face, the Oscar-winning doc about a plastic surgeon restoring the faces of acid-burn victims in Pakistan. Kinyarwanda, the Sundance winning feature about Muslims and Christians working together to save lives during the Rwandan genocide, and lastly, All-American Muslim.

I think for me personally, the event had a couple of extra bits that made it special. The first, is that in doing interviews with all the honorees, I researched the people and the works themselves, and then, spoke to them one on one. So I became invested in the stories and the people, in front of and behind the camera, and they grew so much in eyes, even beyond what they are to the public. And of course, the second thing is the award going to All-American Muslim. Not only was AAM a huge part of my daily life for months, but I was a part of so many frustrating discussions with the Muslim community about the value or lack thereof of this show for us, as American Muslims. And to see MPAC recognize so loud and clear the importance of it, was infinitely rewarding. To watch Amy Winter, the Head of TLC and Alon Orstein, the VP of Production and Development come to our microcosm, and accept an honor by us, for their representation of American Muslims on mainstream cable TV meant a lot…A LOT.

So on to more great works of art, more voices of courage and conscience, and more awards to come, that remind us that it can happen, it can be done, that Hollywood can and will shift as it has so many times before.

What a Ride…

Season #1 of All-American Muslim is over, and after all is said and done, I can honestly say…what a ride! An adventure filled with excitement, satisfaction, controversy, praise, hate and of course, Islamophobia.

I can honestly say that the three months I spent in NYC working on the show, taught me so much. The pace of it all, the speed with which we shifted strategy, thought on our feet, mobilized media, organizations, influencers… the reach we were able to have in the online space through relentless social media activity. An unforgettable experience, and certainly full of unexpected twists and turns. Who would have imagined that one reality show would create so much controversy and spark something so much bigger and more meaningful that I’m proud to have been a part.


The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For…

“Premieres November 13th at 10pm”…I can’t count the number of times I’ve written and spoken those words in the past month. And now here I am on November 13th, less than an hour away from the airing of All-American Muslim. This is what we prepared for, worked for. It has been so interesting to see it come to fruition, to see it all develop, to see the buzz and the excitement spreading over the internet, media and most of all…people, word of mouth.

Almost a month ago, I picked up my life, and hauled my butt to NYC not just for a gig, a project, a job, but to be a part of something that touches me personally. Something that truly has the potential to change our American Muslim reality, even if only in a small way. Something I can be proud to say I was a part of. And something I can pour not just my professional experience into, but my life experience, my personal experience, my family experience, and that means a lot to me.

So in an hour the snowball begins to roll, the train leaves the station, whatever metaphor you choose to express a process that once started cannot be stopped and you are long for the ride. Active and proactive, yes, but ultimately it takes on a life of its own. And we’ll see- where the train goes, how big the snowball gets, what kind of a life it will have. A great one I hope, and I will do my best, and make sure my team does their best, to make that life a rich, powerful, meaningful one That we won’t forget.

So let’s sit back and watch five American Muslim families open their doors and their lives to America. Let’s watch them work, play, love, parent, struggle, and practice their faith, as we all do. Let’s see if we can connect with them as people, and let’s hope that every single person who tunes in to TLC tonight at 10pm finds something, big or small that they can relate to and touches them enough to keep them coming back.