Brooklyn Inshallah was directed and produced by Ahmed Mansour from Gaza.
This film documents the election campaign for New York city council of Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian/American immigrant Lutheran pastor. Had he won the election it would have been a first for an Arab immigrant. His most prominent campaign supporters are Linda Sarsour and Abeer Qawwas. It’s an inspiration to all those who believe in Democracy.
The film documents many instances of Islamophobia which are even directed at an Arab Christian Pastor.
I asked Ahmed Mansour why he decided document this story?
When I came to the US, in August 2015, Trump was running for President and at that time he announced the travel ban that would target 7 Arab countries. As a Muslim, Arab from the Gaza strip I felt unwelcome and I could not believe that this could happen in the Land of Freedom and Democracy. But what really got me at that time was something my friend Abeer Qawwas said when she heard about the announcement of the Travel Ban. She said, “I am afraid what happened to Japanese Americans in the second world war is going to happen to us Arabs”.
That was really, really hard to hear from an American born person whose parents were Arab immigrants. I felt it was my responsibility to document what was happening. My friend Abeer explained to me that she had a personal stake in this because her father was deported after 9/11. Her mother had not done anything illegal but was arrested while she was in the subway so that when her husband came looking for her they could arrest him. The Arab and Palestinian community in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York were subjected to a huge amount of prejudice which manifested itself in many different ways.
In January 2017, I went to film the Woman’s march the day after the inauguration of Trump. While I was there I met a key speaker at the March, Linda Sarsour. She spoke at this event and I was really inspired and impressed by her, she was an outstanding public speaker, she energized the entire crowd. I found out that she lives in Brooklyn NY and it took me a while to get access to her but eventually I did. I put to her my idea about documenting her life and activism under Trump and she accepted.
Two weeks after I started following her, I was filming when she introduced the first Arab, American, Palestinian Lutheran Pastor immigrant to ever run for New York city council, Khader El-Yateem. I was amazed! I thought this candidate has it all in him. I got the opportunity to sit and talk with him, I got to know him and I really liked him. I said to him “Listen man, I really want to do a documentary about you, I want to constantly follow you, I will keep up with your pace and I need access to your Campaign”.
What was it like behind the camera during filmimg?
When I started filming in Bay Ridge it took me a really long time before I gained the trust of the community. I remember a year and half ago, at the beginning when I was pointing my camera in the campaign office where there were many Muslims and Arabs volunteering, people were freaking out and asking me to put down the camera almost every day for the first two weeks. I was so surprised because I was saying to them I am Arab like you and I am here to tell your story but one of the girls explained to me that your camera to us is a form of surveillance. She told me how after 9/11 the whole neighbourhood was wire tapped.
I decided I needed to introduce myself to them so I spoke to them in Arabic and told them where I am coming from and what it meant to me to be able to tell this story. So little by little I gained their trust but it was incredibly hard in the beginning. They don’t trust anybody they don’t know and especially someone who is walking around carrying a camera.
After this filming became very interesting I got to know so many people from the community and I got to hear so many stories. Some you’ll hear about in the film but they were so many that I just couldn’t fit them all.
How did you feel about the result of the election?
There are 40,000 Arab Americans that live in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. In the last election, believe it or not, only 250 of them voted out of 40,000. Clearly democracy is not working for Arab Americans of Brooklyn. The fact that such a tiny fraction of this community voted really tells you how this community feels about participating in elections.
On election day, after Father Khader El-Yateem had been campaigning for a year and a half, after he had worked hard registering people, knocking on almost every door, after he spoke at every Mosque and every Church, that translated into the most intense day the Arab American community of Bay Ridge had ever experienced. Arab Americans were parading in the streets, in cars and on motor cycles carrying El-Yateem signs and they were rushing to the polling station as soon as they opened for the first time. At the end of day El-Yateem lost the election but he won almost 3000 votes, he helped register and mobilise almost 3000 Arab Americans and for me that was a milestone.
As a filmmaker and a journalist, I should be neutral but when I heard the results being read out I cried. Everyone in the community was crying not only because they lost but because they realised the power that they had when they came together.
In his speech El-Yateem said “From now on we are visible. We are no longer invisible. We went from Zero to being a hero”. For the first time the Arab community had finally empowered itself by registering to vote and by voting.
Now after the campaign the Arab community of Bay ridge has founded the first political organisation in its history. Arabs have been living in Bay Ridge for over a century but it was only in 2018 that they founded Yalla Brooklyn. That for me was breath taking because I had seen how the community was living with its head buried in the sand.
Now as the midterm election is approaching in November all the election candidates are approaching this Arab community because they want their votes. The Arab community base of Bay Ridge can generate over 3,000 votes. As a result, every midterm candidate is approaching them and seeking their endorsement. They are now a power, they are base that has a power and people are aware and listening to them. This Arab community is not silent anymore, they realise the power of their votes and even now every day the community is registering more people to vote, raising awareness about the importance of voting. This whole process was a life changing game for me.
Khader El-Yateem finished second in the primary with 31% of the vote to Justin Brannan's 39% in a five-way race. While he didn’t win, he came close and that’s a great achievement.
Ahmed Mansour, a New York-based filmmaker, is a NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute - News and Documentary Program - graduate. Ahmed was born and raised in a refugee camp in Gaza Strip, Palestine. He worked as an organizer, translator and guide for international journalists covering the 2014 war. He made a series of short films highlighting the humanitarian crisis in Gaza Strip after three successive wars. He has also worked as a reporter for the Washington Report on the Middle East Affairs in Washington DC. Ahmed runs his own production company specializing in short videos, and is skilled in all aspects of filmmaking. He is a graduate of an extensive course in storytelling form Storywise Center. Ahmed has received residencies and fellowships from Duke University and the Paths to Peace Leadership Program.