September 23, 2016 11:54 am
The first film in Kartemquin's Diversity Fellowship program, American Arab is a provocative look at the contradictions of Arab identity in post 9/11 America. Iraqi-born director Usama Alshaibi (Nice Bombs, Profane) interweaves his personal narrative as an Arab-American and a filmmaker with the life stories of other diverse characters to explore the values, passions, and hopes held by modern Arab-Americans. As Alshaibi's conflicted chosen homeland tries to paint him— and other Arab-Americans— with the same wide brushstroke, Alshaibi reclaims a complicated and varied identity through this autobiographical documentary, embracing the multifaceted Arab-American experience.
Though the film explores topics such as race, religion, and war, perhaps the greatest takeaway isn't a belief in a policy but rather a deeper understanding of the human experience. In an interview with the Chicago Reader, Usama Alshaibi calls for an acknowledgement that the Arab-American experience is complicated, and needs space to be complex.
"I think the United States is starting to see the melting pot happen right now. As the landscape of America is changing, this type of conversation becomes more important and relevant. People need to be able to feel like they're complicated. It's not like there needs to be any tension between you being an American and you being a Puerto Rican. In another way, you can also say, "I abandon both of these cultures," and sort of find your own. One of the people I talk to in the film—his name is Marwan Kamel, his mom's from Poland and his dad's from Syria, and he said something very beautiful and simple: "Allow people the ability to be complex, give them that space to be complex." It's important to allow these stories to be heard, and I think certain filmmakers who have been marginalized in the past also need to be heard."
For more of Alshaibi's thoughts on the film and the Arab-American experience, check out this interview from 2013.
The film has its world premiere at IDFA in 2013 and received an honorable mention from the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Gordon Quinn and Justine Nagan were executive producers on the film, with Matt Lauterbach and Leslie Simmer editing. American Arab was supported with funding from the MacAurthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
American Arab is available for purchase on DVD here.