Dear Production Team,
Ok great, you’ve created a movie with the title “Towelhead” — the same term that I hear being barked at me by teenagers in the next car, as I drive down the highway with my windows down, listening to NPR.
I would much rather let this go, let it slide, not blink an eye and say goodbye. But since movies are the primary form of American education, I owe a response to you out of respect for this great nation. Your film fans the flames of several deep misconceptions that many organizations are trying to fight — let’s see if we can make it right.
The first misconception is that Arab Americans wear turbans. In my entire life — growing up in New Jersey, attending Princeton University, and working in the northwest — I’ve never seen an Arab American wear a turban. I estimate that 98% of people in America who wear turbans are Sikhs like myself with no connection to the Arab world whatsoever.
Just the title of the book and the movie and the words “Arab American” creates this association or reinforces it. I have nothing against Arab Americans and think highly of them — but the association the movie creates “arab-american:turban” is patently false. Maybe Arabs wear turbans. But Arab Americans? If they do, it’s so rare I’ve never witnessed it.
Second, by titling the movie a term that has no use other than hatred and divisiveness, you severely hurt the cause of unity and tolerance. Now those teenagers on the highway are emboldened, they have signoff from the media for their racist choice of words. I would venture to guess that, unlike the equally abhorrent N-word, which everyone knows, the T-word will be a new term for some people. You’ve just added it to their vocabulary of slurs.
Have you seen Inside Man by Spike Lee? Get the DVD, watch the directors commentary (36:00). He says, “Most people don’t know the difference between a Sikh and an Arab…anyone with a turban on their head, or that racist comment towelhead…” Well the difference is Sikh Americans wear turbans, while Arab Americans largely do not, and your film exacerbates this problem.
So what’s there to do? It’s really up to you — certainly you can help educate and stop the hate? Ignorance is the problem in this nation — basic awareness really goes a long way to promoting unity. Unfortunately the title of your film takes us in the wrong direction.
PS - here’s SALDEF’s take on the issue
Last Sunday, I walked in to Gurdwara, and I was surprised to see Sukhwinder Singh, friend and creator of the movie Sundri (I first met him at the Seattle Sikh Retreat). Sundri’s a great animated film about bravery and the equality of women in Sikhism. Watch this great “Making of Sundri” clip below.
Here’s a PDF with the details of the New Jersey showing. I’ll probably make the 3pm show. We need more positive cartoons featuring Sikh storylines. Buy tickets online.
Noor Nissan Productions is searching for cast members for its upcoming film “The Sixth River.” The group has a great track record of producing positive works that portray the challenges facing Sikhs today. Their first major film, Kambdi Kalaai, achieved its goal of “exploring how faith and human relationships mingle together to create an everlasting impact on the human psyche.” If you’re up for it, email sixthriver [at] gmail.com or fill out the audition form. I acted in a few high school and college productions — maybe I should try this out?
The AMU DVD has been released, get your copy at AmuDVD.com. The film is eye-opening, thought-provoking, and engaging. It’s the work of a talented director named Shonali Bose, who I had the opportunity to meet in Seattle. All I can say is we need more people like Shonali in this world–people that are passionate, driven, and pursuing a higher cause: the cause of justice, rights, and freedom for all.
To my surprise, when the film was screened in India, it had to be first reviewed by a censorship board. Can you believe that? The world’s largest democracy has a censorship board! That doesn’t sound very democratic. The censor board recommended the deletion of several ‘controversial’ lines of dialog from the film. Instead of removing these scenes, they merely muted the audio when the film was shown, prompting the immediate question in the post-film Q&A — “What were they saying?” Read the details here!
Wanna check out some cool movies and shorts? The spinning wheel film festival is in New York this Sunday.
Check out the main page here:
And the Mayor’s proclamation here:
From Valarie Kaur:
When the calendar page turns to September, it’s difficult not to look at the 11th day. It’s a time to remember who was lost, who survived, who has been left behind. And how to live in the aftermath.
Everyone remembers September 11th. But we must also never forget September 15th.
In 2001, September 15th fell, like it does this year, on a Saturday. Balbir Singh Sodhi, wearing the turban and beard of a Sikh man, went to Costco to stock new supplies for his gas station near Phoenix, Arizona. And to look for an American flag for his store. In the check-out line, he saw a donation box for the New York relief effort and emptied his pockets of $74 - all he had remaining with him. (Flags were sold out.)
A few hours later, Mr. Sodhi was dead, killed in front of gas station by a man who called himself a patriot.
That same day, Adel Karas, an Egyptian Christian in Los Angeles and Kimberly Lowe, a Native American in Oklahoma City were killed, too.
Mr. Sodhi, Mr. Karas and Ms. Lowe were the first of at least 19 people murdered as retribution in the aftermath of 9/11. Although our country was united in grief and sorrow, fear had the power to blind Americans to the faces of their neighbors, at home and abroad.
For those of you who have been following our film Divided We Fall, you know that we feature Mr. Sodhi, his family’s story, and the story of an American city who came together in extraordinary compassion - a testament to what is possible when we share our common humanity.
On this day one year ago, we premiered the film in Phoenix, hosted by the local community, on the memorial of his death. Since we premiered, we have screened in 50 cities, opening spaces for deep dialogue in campuses and communities across the country. (We also won three awards, were featured on CNN, and have been generally too busy to send out updates on newsletters…we will recap the remarkable summer soon, we promise…)
In the year since we began our national film tour, we have been moved by the insights, stories, and memories people have shared with us. Everyone, even the very young, still feel the reverberations of September 11 th. They will never forget. We hope we are helping them to never forget Balbir Singh Sodhi, also.
We hope you are safe and healthy during these days of remembrance. Thank you for being a part of our extended DWF family. We are doing our best to make a difference.
Inni Kaur writes:
The film AMU needs our help. The community has not come out and shown its support and the opening of AMU in other cities is in jeopardy.
A way to show your support - even if you are not in Manhattan.
Please go to the net to the Cinema Village link and buy a one 10 dollar ticket to the
film. Just one.
This would be your contribution in internationalizing the issue of ‘84.
The success of AMU in NY affects the opening in the rest of the US.
If you feel 1984s story needs to be heard and the silence to be broken please buy 1 ticket and show your support. This week in crucial - please show your support.
Valarie Kaur, who took some time off Stanford right after 9/11 to document the aftermath and its repercussions for America, will be interviewed by Paula Zahn tonight. She and her partner in crime Sharat Raju will be talking about their film, Divided We Fall, an awesome flick that I hope makes a big national debut. Congrats Valarie! We love you! More after the jump.
Divided We Fall is an outstanding movie documenting the American experience shortly after 9/11. It follows the adventure of Valarie Kaur, as she travels America as a girl with a camera documenting the strife and the experiences of Sikh Americans and others in the months following the disaster. It’s a must see and gets a high rating in my book. I first saw the film in October 2005 at the Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Toronto. Please watch the movie–check out the site for a screening near you, and tell us what you think. I’ve met Valarie Kaur–in fact I knew her before she was famous–as I was in touch with her regarding the Sikhism course she created at Stanford University. I can vouch for how wonderful she is, and I am inspired by her example of following her spirit and doing what she knew she had to do.