Directed by USAMA ALSHAIBI
In Kartemquin’s American Arab, Iraqi-born director UsamaAlshaibi takes a provocative look at the contradictions of Arab identity in a post 9/11 America and the west, weaving his own life’s journey and “coming-of-Arab” experiences into the life stories of several diverse characters. Exploring the values, passions, and hopes of his fellow Arab-Americans, Usama tries to make peace with his conflicted chosen homeland.
Politics change perceptions. In the film, this change in western perceptions are explored. After September 2011, Arabs like Usama became the ‘villains’ because of the way they looked and where they came from. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was regularly cast as ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim,’ in order to intimidate some American citizens into mistrusting him. Could an Arab no longer be a decent person andbe atrusted citizen in the Western world?
The film begins with the death of Alshaibi’s brothers, Samer. He died from excessive drug use and threw my mother’s American dream on its head. We meet an American-born Arab woman who wears a headscarf and tells us how she was the victim of a hate crime that was extensively covered by news outlets. Alshaibi introduces us to Marwan Kamel, a punk musician in his 20s who is forming a new, untraditional Arab-American identity, without conflict. As Marwan says, “Just allow me to be complicated.”
Usama’s own story propels the narrative however… his adult years were shaped by an altered perception of his identity. Suspicion and violence replaced the fascination as the predominant public reaction to his cultural heritage others had shown him as a child. Guilty by association,he often felt compelled to defend himself, his country, or his religion. Repeatedly trying toconvince others that Arabs and Muslims are not one monolithic group, but rather a diverse and complex array of many voices and cultures takes a toll.
He unflinchingly shows how these two words, Arab and Muslim, have been used to instigate and promote hate, bigotry and fear into the heart of Westerners. The documentary explores these moments and how they have informed hisown coming of Arab story. WhenUsama himself becomes a victim of a racially motivated attack,his wounds still healing, his wife gives birth to their fist child together, a healthy daughter. He can’t help but ponder her future and the new world she will be facing as an Arab in the West.