Erased Perspectives of an Arab American Family

My intention with these images is to shine a light on a topic that is taboo among many Arab Muslim families. This past year, my parents got a divorce. Growing up talking about our emotions at home was not an option. It just wasn’t a real thing. My parents’ divorce was simultaneously relieving and frightening. I set out to create images of my deteriorating family. 

Dad was abusive. I always used to think that he acted violently because life had dealt him a bad card. Falling victim to the systemic racial injustices that plague post 9/11 America took a toll on his life and ours. The American dream didn’t work out for us. Maybe that’s how he justified his actions. My mother was also a victim of his abuse. She is the strongest person I know.

She has put up with so much for us. I wish she would have gotten a divorce sooner for our sake, but she was dependent on my Dad for many things. I tried to be as encouraging as I could with my Mom about her decision to divorce. 

Weirdly enough, I still love my Dad. I’ve talked with him about the past and have reconciled. For so long, I grappled with his behavior. There is a common stereotype in America that I grew up with that all Arab men are abusive to their wives. Growing up in a society that viewed me as violent, and seeing that stereotype actualized in my Dad, made me feel like it was all true. I hated myself and where I came from because of it. I worked hard to remain invisible. When people in school would call me a terrorist, they’d follow it up by saying the phrase, “It’s funny because it’s true.” 

These past few years have been formative. All my experiences led to the creation of these images. I sought help and learned from what I had experienced. I needed to break the cycle of violence. I refuse to be like my Dad. As difficult as things may get in life, I will not be a victim of my environment. I am a survivor.  These images are important to me because they expose a part of my life that is never discussed openly. They remind me to continue creating images that humanize our experience. That’s the power of the visual medium.

Ahmad Ghanim

Media misrepresentations have negatively impacted my life growing up as Muslim in post-9/11 America. From an early age, I recognized how visual media adversely shape perceptions of Muslims. Cinema has the power to demonize people, but it can also be used as a positive tool to illuminate lives that are too often distorted or unacknowledged. Therefore, it is necessary for us to undo misconceptions surrounding Arab and Muslim Americans by creating films that humanize us. To contribute to this process, I continually seek to strengthen my skills and my voice as a filmmaker who brings audiences into characters’ complex worlds.

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