Hollywood

The goal of MPAC's Hollywood Bureau is to advance accurate and humanizing portrayals of Islam and Muslims by serving as an information clearinghouse about Islam for the Hollywood community. The Bureau also works with the American Muslim community to nurture creative talent and connect aspiring Muslim filmmakers, writers and actors with Hollywood professionals. In 2013, we were able to use that advocacy as consultants on two major film projects. Also in the year, we held a successful Hollywood Young Leaders Summit and honored the voices of legends and newcomers to the entertainment industry who have dedicated their careers to promoting increased understanding.

Appearance on "The Jeselnik Offensive"

In August, MPAC's President, Salam Al-Marayati, appeared on Comedy Central's "The Jeselnik Offensive" to talk about Islam for the show's ongoing comedic segment, "Where's Your God Now?" The comedian sought Al‑Marayati's advice on the best way to tell jokes to a Muslim audience, and then did a short routine for an audience. This was a first for MPAC to be featured in a major cable TV show that is focused on comedy. Watch the segment.

The goal of MPAC's Hollywood Bureau is to advance accurate and humanizing portrayals of Islam and Muslims by serving as an information clearinghouse in Islam for the Hollywood community. The Bureau also works with the American Muslim community to nurture creative talent and connect aspiring Muslim filmmakers, writers and actors with Hollywood professionals. In 2013, we were able to use that advocacy to consult on two major film projects, to hold a successful Hollywood Young Leaders Summit, and to honor the voices of both of legends and newcomers to the industry who have dedicated their careers to promoting increased understanding.

 

A Night of Entertainment Honoring Russell Simmons

On a beautiful Los Angeles evening in November, over 400 people and six performing artists gathered at the University of Southern California to honor Russell Simmons for his ongoing advocacy of religious freedom and the rights of minorities. As a philanthropist, hip-hop mogul, and co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Russell Simmons was presented with a "Voice of Courage and Conscience" Award for using his celebrity to promote acceptance and understanding in the face of bigotry toward Islam and Muslims and for his consistent efforts to promote the voices and talents of Muslim artists in mainstream outlets. A powerful video montage showcasing his work brought enthusiastic applause from the audience in a show of profound gratitude for his wide-ranging and outspoken advocacy on behalf of the Muslim community.

The evening was filled with memorable performances beginning with a hilarious standup routine by comedian Dean Obeidallah, who stressed the importance of the arts as a means to tell our stories. The next performer taking the stage was Def Jam Poet Amir Sulaiman, who brought the crowd to its feet with his passionate monologue on the destructive nature of bigotry, hate and indifference. Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna was next to take the stage, transporting the audience with beautiful renditions of three of songs, among them, "Falling" and "Live Your Life".

Following Yuna, MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati presented Simmons with the "Voice of Courage and Conscience" award for promoting acceptance and co-existence in the face of hate toward Islam and Muslims, and for standing up for justice for all. In the Q&A session which followed, Simmons stated, "There is a simple principle, which is the idea of the rights that you take for granted yourself aren't safe unless you extend them out to others. If you do what's right, you end up on your feet. Push to create a change that is necessary."

Closing the evening on an energetic note was the up-and-coming young pop group AKNU, renown for their amazing appearance on the "X Factor". Their performance of "Valerie" and other upbeat songs brought the crowd to its feet, the perfect end to a truly inspiring evening.

 

22nd Annual Media Awards for Voices of Courage and Conscience

"Courage and conscience, those are virtues so greatly needed for this troubled and confusing time. Wherever we find them, they should be embraced and celebrated."

- Dustin Hoffman, Academy Award winning actor,
in a message congratulating "5 Broken Cameras" director Emad Burnat

At MPAC's 22nd Annual Media Awards in April, we honored three exceptional projects before a sold-out audience, in an evening filled with emotional moments and standing ovations. This year's recipients of the "Voices of Courage and Conscience Award" were the Sundance Institute, the FOX television show "Bones", and the Oscar-nominated Palestinian documentary "5 Broken Cameras".

Filmmaker Lena Khan, a former Emerging Artist recipient, presented the first award to the Sundance Institute for supporting the professional development of artists from Muslim-majority countries. "Filmmakers in the Middle East can finally tell their own stories. It's going to start from filmmakers whose film were launched, developed or made cool to a mainstream audience by the Sundance Institute," she said.

In accepting the award, Matthew Takata, Manager of the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Program, expressed his gratitude for the honor. "Our Middle East film initiative was started in 2005," he said, "because, like MPAC, we recognized the rapidly evolving role of film and the advance of ideas, movements, values and presenting authentic images of the Middle Eastern societies. It's designed to identify filmmakers with unique, authentic voices throughout the Middle East, and since its inception has developed 80 feature-like films. This award is really important to us and we're really grateful for this recognition."

The second award recipient, FOX's "Bones", in a unique achievement in serial television, has featured a practicing Muslim character as part of the central storyline for the past five seasons. Longtime MPAC ally and former Head of Diversity Development at FOX Entertainment, Ron Taylor, presented the award to series writer Keith Fogelsong and actor Pej Vahdat.

Vahdat plays Arastoo Vaziri, a character that has made significant breakthroughs in viewers' perception of American Muslims. "Thank you, MPAC for honoring me and ‘Bones’ for this wonderful award," Vahdat said. "Thank you FOX for giving me something that I can relate to as an American Muslim."

The third "Voices of Courage and Conscience" Award was presented to a film that has opened the eyes of mainstream audiences to the realities of life in Palestine. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature in the 85th Academy Awards, "5 Broken Cameras" takes us along a photographic journey with Palestinians who stand up against the occupation, using their voices and the power of five different cameras. Presenting the award to the film's co-director Emad Burnat, Rabbi Leonard Beerman spoke of the power of interfaith relations and even introduced a special audio message from legendary actor Dustin Hoffman, who congratulated "5 Broken Cameras" as "a most powerful and very moving film." Burnat was deeply touched by the praise of his work from these legends and spoke of the importance of telling these stories to the world. "My camera is a strong weapon and a strong witness," he said. "We should tell our stories before others hijack them. I did this film from my point of view, from my heart, from my mind. I'm very happy because the message was sent to the world and everybody was shocked and moved by its story."

Closing the evening, MPAC Senior Advisor Dr. Maher Hathout thanked each of the honorees for their excellent, change-inspiring work. "They say that a beautiful sky is the one that is crowded with stars, and we are very happy to see our skies filled with so many stars," he said. "Your being here is proof that the darkness can never take over, one candle can break the thickest darkness."

 

Consulting On Two Major Film Projects: Enemy Way and Camp X-Ray

MPAC's Hollywood Bureau consulted with Academy Award-nominated French-Algerian writer/director Rachid Bouchereb (“Days of Glory”) on his film project "Enemy Way”. Bouchereb collaborated on the script with his co-writer Olivier Lorelle and acclaimed Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra (“The Swallows of Kabul”). MPAC assisted Bouchereb in this project from start to finish. At the inception of the project, MPAC researched the storyline. Later MPAC provided training on Islamic customs and rituals to the lead actor, Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker (“Last King of Scotland”, “The Butler”).

"Enemy Way" tells the story of William Garrett (Whitaker) a Muslim ex-convict struggling to rebuild his life in a New Mexico border town where he is released after 18 years in prison. His efforts meet resistance by the town sheriff, played by Harvey Keitel, who is intent on sending him back to prison for life. Academy Award winner Ellen Burnstyn, Brenda Blethlyn and Luiz Guzman also star, with MPAC's Senior Advisor, Dr. Maher Hathout, in a cameo role opposite Whitaker as the prison chaplain. The film is set for release in a mid-2014.

“Camp X-Ray”, a new film that recently premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, stars Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”, “On The Road”) and Peyman Maadi (“A Separation”) as two people who form an unexpected bond through their experiences at the infamous detention center in Guantanamo Bay. Amy Cole (Stewart) is a newly arrived army guard who is suddenly in a world very different from her own. Ali Amir (Maadi) is a detainee caught in the frustrating and painful limbo of detention. Throughout the course of the film, their unlikely friendship shapes and transforms their understanding of each other and their initial opposing perspectives. MPAC consulted with writer/director Peter Sattler on the script and was also on set for the filming. “Camp X-ray” will be released in August of 2014.

 

  • MPAC has been a tremendous resource in getting it right...

    Howard Gordon, television writer and producer