Jeffrey Togman, Ph.D., professor of political science and film, as well as the director and producer of Mayor Mohamed, will have a screening of the documentary on Thursday, October 20, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the University's 2022-2023 Diversity Film Series. The event will be held in the Schwartz Building, Room 113 and doors will open for seating at 6:15 p.m. The screening is also co-sponsored by the Center for Faculty Development, the College of Arts and Sciences, Seton Hall's chapter of Scholars for Syria, and the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs.
"The film focuses on Mohamed Khairullah, a Muslim immigrant from Syria who moved to the United States in the 1980s, and who has been the mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey since 2006," said Professor Togman. The film won a Special Jury Award at the Montclair Film Festival and had its world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Mayor Mohamed also made its international premiere at the Arabisches Filmfestival in Germany, with screenings in Tubingen and Stuttgart.
Khairullah is the longest-serving Muslim elected official in New Jersey and the documentary gives the audience a glimpse into the sacrifices and risks he takes to bring humanitarian relief into Syria while simultaneously fighting the forces of Islamophobia in the United States. When he is accused of imposing "Sharia Law" by a local politician, who later runs a campaign to unseat him as mayor, Khairullah must confront these forces of Islamophobia and reckons with the larger question of what it means to be an American.
Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK reporter Philip DeVencentis spoke to Khairullah and Togman earlier this year when Mayor Mohamed was acquired by Hollywood-based distributor, Freestyle Digital Media, for streaming on multiple platforms, including AppleTV+, Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, among other services.
Excited to bring his documentary to a wider audience, Professor Togman said, "We're also excited about the conversations that it's going to start about Islamophobia, Muslim civil rights and other issues it deals with."
In an interview on WNYC's All of It with Matt Katz for an earlier screening, Khairullah talked about the Islamophobic opposition he has faced dating back to when he first ran for local office in 2001. "Unfortunately, the tragic events of September 11th happened that same year and that's when I was told I have no chance of winning an election with a name like mine," said Khairullah. He went on to say, "because of my community engagement I think my community saw above the fray, above the stereotyping, above the fear-mongering, and elected me to office."
Initially planned as a film to help document the Syrian civil war, Professor Togman attended a panel of Syrian American guest speakers at the Congregation Shomrei Emunah synagogue, which included Khairullah, during the pre-production phase of the film. In an interview with Lauren Peacock of the Montclair Local, Togman mentioned that he introduced himself after Khairullah's speech and "there was an immediate spark." It was shortly after that Khairullah agreed to become the focal point of the film. "It wasn't initially a story about just Mohamed," said Togman, "but it was just a fascinating story."
Togman discussed obstacles he had to overcome during the filming process. "To get myself and the film crew invited into all these people's lives...they were very generous with their time, with their privacy, finding people willing to do that is a challenge," he said.
The screening is free to both the University community and the public on a first-come first-served basis. For more information on the film, visit the official Facebook page here and the Twitter account for the documentary here.
To learn more, view related media coverage on Mayor Mohammed.
Categories: Arts and Culture