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I’m Arab And I’m Not A Bomber, Belly Dancer Or Billionaire!!

‘Do you know that everyone here thinks you’re a terrorist?’ My classmate asked me after a few weeks of starting grad school. His intentions were pure. He was simply mocking the prevalent bias against Muslims in the West. Still, it hit me like a bullet. As an Arab Muslim woman living in the US, I have to accept questions like ‘What do you think of women oppression in Saudi Arabia?’ and ‘Is it safe in your country?’

As an Egyptian, I should never get tired of laughing when I get the ‘Do you still live in pyramids?’ Mazin B. Qumsiyeh, director of media relations at the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, published a report called ‘100 Years of Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim Stereotyping’. He highlighted that Arabs in American movies are portrayed as ‘bombers, belly dancers or billionaires’.

I am more concerned about finding a solution. Changing what I don’t like, instead of complaining about it.

So who’s to blame? Some say it’s lazy Americans who form stereotypes based on the limited information they’re presented with, without digging for all facts. Others say you can’t blame people who’d never heard about Islam until Bin Laden showed up. Frankly, I don’t care. I have no interest in getting into endless debates about which side is in the wrong here. I am more concerned about finding a solution. Changing what I don’t like, instead of complaining about it.

As a long believer in the power of media and art in bridging cultural gaps, I thought that there must be a way to introduce a different narrative about Arabs. And film was my weapon of choice. Before moving to the US to pursue an MBA at MIT Sloan, I was running my startup Qabila Media Productions in Egypt. We created video content, mostly in animation, for social impact. We made short films like Aviation Dream that told the story of the Andalusian scientist who was the first to try flying. Our goal was to inspire young Arabs to chase their dreams, regardless of how crazy they might seem.

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Diaspora communities are constantly in search of good quality content from their home countries.

We got amazing feedback from our viewers who said things like ‘This video changed me.’ The beauty of this video does not only come from the story but also from the fact that it was crowdsourced. Ahmad Tealab, the film’s director, knocked on our door with his idea and we absolutely fell in love with it and told him we would do it. We then put together a team (all aged under 24) from our talent network and produced the film. We also ran our own short film festival that received hundreds of entries from around the world. As a result, I got to work with hundreds of young filmmakers like Ahmed, who make amazing films. Amazing films that sadly are rarely seen.

I came to MIT with the intention of finding a technological solution to this problem so I dedicated my thesis to it. And to my pleasant surprise, my research showed that diaspora communities are constantly in search of good quality content from their home countries. And just like me they want to change the narrative that is presented about their cultures in mainstream media. So much so, that they are willing to support the filmmakers that can produce a counter narrative, financially.

There’s a broad range of Middle Eastern films out there.

That’s how MoviePigs was born, an online platform for diaspora communities to find, fund and watch amazing films from their home countries. Our goal is to give the power of creation to its rightful owner (the talent) and the power of evaluation and selection, to its rightful owner (the audience). By connecting diaspora communities directly to the filmmakers, we allow them to find and watch the films that represent them; to influence how they are perceived by sharing these films within their external communities; and to crowdfund new films.

So next time a non-Arab American sees a film like American Sniper and sees Clint Eastwood depict Arabs as ‘savage, despicable evil,’ they can confidently say ‘That’s not true,’ because they have seen a different side of the story.

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Written by How Africa

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