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Facing the Bigots: Here’s What It’s Like to Screen ‘The Muslims Are Coming!’ Around the Country

Facing the Bigots: Here's What It's Like to Screen 'The Muslims Are Coming!' Around the Country

Comedian Negin Farsad has written for, created, and appeared on various shows for Comedy Central, MTV, PBS, AOL, and Nickelodeon, among others. The director/producer of the feature film “Nerdcore Rising,” which premiered at SXSW, Farsad recently co-directed (with Dean Obeidallah) and produced the feature documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” in which she appears alongside Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, Rachel Maddow, Janeane Garofalo, and David Cross. Farsad wrote the following column about her experience touring the country to promote the film (which is now available on Netflix). Her main takeaway? “Bigots are bad fact checkers.” Read on…

Like most comedians, I made a comedy about Muslims. I know, how many of those do we really need? Premiering it and sharing it with the public has been endlessly fascinating (and occasionally scary).

Here’s the deal with the film: Myself and Dean Obeidallah rounded up a bunch of Muslim-American comedians – in a non-violent way – and together we toured the country. We called the show The Muslims Are Coming! We went to places in the deep South like Columbus, GA, Birmingham, AL, and Murfreesboro, TN – places that don’t necessarily register as “super hot for Muzzies.” These were standard comedy shows, minus the fact that they were free… OH, that there were only Muslims on stage. And, yes, when we went to Florida, we took a Jewish comic to open the show because it’s state law.

We filmed the whole affair, peppering the movie with scenes like “Ask a Muslim” where we set up a booth in the middle of an unsuspecting town square and answered questions all day. Or everyone’s favorite “Bowl with a Muslim” in which we learned that Muslims bowl badly. The movie also has fancy iconic people in it like the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Lewis Black, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross – basically a bunch of people that just won’t shut up about Muslims.

The aim of the movie is to try and open a dialogue about Islamophobia, to counter the ridiculous stereotypes, to build community with people that have no access to Muslims. The message is about love and understanding. The goal was to make friends and, above all, to be hilarious. But with the reception we got from some, you’d think we were a part of a secret Muslim Illuminati.

When the initial announcements about the film came out, the reaction was encouraging, sweet, and evil, all at the same time. A lot of people said really nice things. They used words like “courage,” “bravery,” and “pants.” It was touching. But my favorite response was from the right-wingers, places like Breitbart.com and Front Page. 

After seeing only the trailer, Breitbart said: 

“We aren’t even allowed to discuss Islam and the doctrine of jihad in the mainstream media, but ‘Islamophobia’ is a matter for comedy? How perfect: making fun of a subject that the American people don’t even begin to understand because of the prohibition on the subject matter.” 

If the fine people of Breitbart think there is a prohibition on the subject matter, sadly, they have never heard of Fox News. They’ve clearly never seen an episode of such overlooked shows as “24” or “Homeland”; and they never saw festival circuit faves like “True Lies,” “Taken” or “Team America”. (Okay, fine! The Albanian Muslims in “Taken” were sex traffickers not jihadists per se so I guess that’s totally different).

I just wish I could get them a subscription to Netflix or basic cable or even just a VHS player because they’ve missed so much jihad-based programming! In fact, when you look at American media in the last 20 years its like we’re waging a jihad on storylines that involve jihad because it has been overkill amiright?

But my favorite reaction to “The Muslims Are Coming!” came from The Washington Times. They spent their bandwidth trying to destroy the movie (again, having only seen the trailer) and referred to me as Mr. Farsad throughout the entire piece. At first, I was flattered, “wow, you think I have testicles!” And then I remembered it was the 21st century and I got mad!

It’s one thing to be attacked, but to assume that a woman doesn’t have the wherewithal to make a movie worth attacking?? That’s like a misogyny-Islamophobia-sandwich that tastes gross. 

To be fair, I get this all the time. People contact me as Mr. Farsad to ask about film rights and festival screenings. It’s a basic assumption that if someone with a strange name made a movie, that person is a dude. I mean, what are they gonna be, a woman of color? Here’s my suggestion, ask yourself “would a person by this name possibly have tits?” Then google me. Also, I’m IN the trailer… and named onscreen. It turns out that bigots are remarkably poor fact checkers.

But, the hardest reactions to deal with have been from my own people. Sometimes immigrants hold on to certain woman-hating tendencies that were popular in the mother country. (Those opinions are also popular in this country so they’re hard to give up.)

In the movie, I don’t come off as a “quiet obedient little Muslim girl.” Instead, I talk about boning and I speak like a graduate of the Truck Driver School of Linguistic Etiquette. I’ve gotten hateful tweets like “suck my proud Persian cock you fucking whore.” And (spoiler alert) there’s a whole scene in the movie where a bunch of Muslims walk out on me because I’m so endlessly shameful onstage.

For every moment that an extremist Middle Easterner has attacked me, I’ve gotten 10 times the attacks from non-Middle Eastern Americans about how this movie is trying to “brainwash” people. In Centralia, WA a screening of the movie was protested by a Christian group – I invited them to come inside and watch the movie. But they farthest they got was the lobby. Next time I’ll get them to non-committally stand in the doorway. Baby steps.

Once people see the movie – actually see it – they have a hard time hanging on to hate. Because we approached audiences with love. If you approach people with love, you’ll get love in return. It sounds so cheesy! This kind of chatter definitely threatens the notion that I have testicles. But that’s okay, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a filmmaker, it’s that boobs are great.

Watch the trailer for the film below.

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