Norah Shapiro’s exhilarating documentary about the remarkable Somali/American woman who single-handedly is changing the face of politics in Minnesota for good, is one of those uplifting stories that restores one’s faith in humanity. Not an easy thing to do in this present debased and dangerous political climate.
37 year old Ilhan Omar immigrated to the US from the refugee tent camp in Kenya which had been her home for 4 years, with her family when she was just 12 years old. The only words of English that she should speak were ‘Hello’ and ‘Shut Up’ which she claimed didn’t help her at all. Her family settled in Minneapolis which is home to the largest population of Somalis in the US, and like most new poor Americans struggled to maintain their very basic life style.
Grown up, educated and extremely articulate, this mother of 4 became a local organiser working with different women’s groups and it soon became very obvious to everyone she came across that Omar was a natural leader. The fiercely Democratic district that she lived in had a State Rep called Phyllis Kahn who had served for over 40 years and was regarded by many as out of touch with most of her present day constituents who were so different from those that elected her decades ago. It was obvious that Omar had to challenge her and run for the seat.
The odds were against her as she was young, inexperienced, an immigrant, a Muslim and a woman to boot but it is apparent from Shapiro’s footage that the charismatic Omar had not just the commitment to succeed but the support of a great many people who shared her vision. Her husband took a leave of absence from his Bank job to take care of their children, and he and Omar’s father were enthusiastic about encouraging her in her ambition which many traditional male Muslim’s thoroughly disapproved off.
Her campaign staff were young and enthusiastic and included many from the LGBT community who thought it ironic that Omar was often challenged on her stand on LGBT rights.
Shapiro’s cameras covered the fiercely fought Democratic Caucus where Omar narrowly failed to be adopted as the Official Democratic, and also the Primary Elections where she swept to a groundbreaking victory. By the time this happens you are sitting so far forward on the edge of your seat in anticipation, which at least has you in place to jump up and cheer when that November she wins her seat in the Minnesota congress. It is the same day as the Russians ensured Trump’s own victory.
However it wasn’t all playing sailing as immediately after the Primary a right wing blogger smeared a vicious rumor that Omar was not only an illegal immigrant but was also a bigamist. Rather than investigate these audacious claims the media just ran with them and spread them much to Omar’s discomfort. The State’s Attorney General issued a statement that his Office had investigated the matter and none of the claims were true at all, but as we know full to well nowadays, some people never let truth get in the way of the personal agenda they want to push.
The film however ends on a high point as the newly elected State Rep takes her seat in the House ready to finally start helping her forgotten constituents in this new dawn ahead. It is such a sheer joy to watch.
PS Since the movie was finished Ilhan Omar has even gone on to bigger and better things and became the first Somali/American woman to be elected to the US Congress and as part of the Progressive Democratic Caucus has already started to make waves nationally. There is so much more to come.
P.P.S. Check out the interview we filmed with director Norah Shapiro HERE