‘Go Back to Your Country? I’m From Alabama!’
Apr 01, 2019
When Ben Mullinkosson first moved to Washington, D.C., he knew next to no one. “So I went to Freedom Plaza, which is internationally known as the skate spot in D.C., and within five minutes of arriving, I met Osama and Ayman,” Mullinkosson told me. “They were like, ‘Come skate with us.’ We were instant friends.”
The brothers welcomed Mullinkosson into their orbit. As Mullinkosson got to know them over time, he became privy to the unique challenges they face by virtue of their identity. Born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Osama and Ayman’s parents emigrated from Egypt. They are engineers (Ayman works for NASA), avid skateboarders, and devout Muslims—a combination of traits that the brothers say tends to confuse strangers.
“People get really surprised,” Ayman says in the short documentary Osama and Ayman, which Mullinkosson made with co-directors Sam Price-Waldman and Chris Cresci. “[People] say, ‘You’re in the streets skating, and you pray?’ I mean, yeah. What does that have to do with anything?”
In the film, the brothers, with their characteristic openness and humor, discuss how they navigate Islamophobia. Osama, in particular, encounters hostility and fear at work, where he interacts with strangers on a daily basis in the field. “When people see a beard and brown skin, they already have little itchy, mosquito-like feelings on their body,” he says. “But then, when they hear that your name is Osama, and they know you’re Muslim, they start moving away. They don’t want to talk to you or get to know you.”
“A lot of people don’t know that we are just regular people,” he adds.
After the tragedy in New Zealand at the Christchurch mosques last month, the filmmakers feel that their film’s message is more important than ever. “We were shocked and saddened, like everyone else,” Mullinkosson said. “The best way to counter Islamophobia is to make friends with Muslims. People are people.”
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.