Just as presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump renewed his pledge to stop allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. in the wake of last weekend’s Orlando nightclub massacre, a short film called Meet A Muslim has created a viral groundswell and become part of the discussion. It is getting a wide enough audience that it might well change the career of the filmmaker who made it as a gesture of goodwill.
Tara Miele, who put her video online to mark the start of Ramadan and the last round of presidential primaries, has quickly gotten over 2 million views in the past 10 days; there have been 1.2 million views in the last 24 hours since it was posted on Facebook by Refinery29. Much of the viral penetration has come courtesy of the efforts of WME, the agency which signed Miele after viewing her video, and helped with the outreach. The video was released days before the massacre in Orlando by a shooter who entered a gay club with an automatic weapon and dedicated the carnage to ISIS.
Miele, who has written and directed short films and movies for television, said the catalyst for the short was a family dinner party that included her two young daughters. She and her DP husband Brett Juskalian and others were discussing Trump’s pronouncement that he would prevent Muslims from entering the country until he could find out what was going on. When a family member agreed with Trump’s concerns, she and her husband vehemently disagreed and the dialogue became heated. While they were yelling at one another, Miele’s daughters interrupted to ask what a Muslim was, and why the country would want to keep them out. That sparked Miele to want to shoot a film that answered their question. “Everybody was screaming at this poor woman at the table, saying, ‘did you not live through WWII, do you not know about fascism,’ but we calmed down and it turned out she had never met a Muslim,” Miele said. “Filmmaking is my skill set and how I communicate. My husband was the DP and we reached out to people we knew who could be in the film, and it grew from there. This had been a one way conversation with Donald Trump, with people feeling upset, and some feeling blind hatred and vitriol. I wanted to broaden that conversation.”
The film features Americans who are Muslim, and describe lives and values that sound like those of most other Americans. “Islam is to Al Qaeda or ISIS the way Christianity is to the KKK,” said Riaz Patel, who is a producer. “We are not them. We are us. How can you hate me this much when we’ve never actually spoken?” Miele shot the film on a $200 budget and when she was finished, showed it to producer Lynette Howell, who is a friend.
Said Miele: “I figured I’d put it on my Facebook page and didn’t know a thing about how to go viral and Lynette said, ‘I’m showing this to Graham [Taylor, the head of WME Global, who’s Howell’s husband]. He said, ‘the best things come the heart, I’m signing you and we’ll make this go big. In a secret world, I’d wanted Graham to rep me for a decade.”
The video could have been awkward it if followed the Orlando tragedy, but Miele felt it holds a place in the conversation particularly after the Orlando attack ratcheted up the political rhetoric, fear and hatred. “The majority of the response has been heartening, but there has also been some scary stuff,” she said. “The darkest came from people who own their Islamophobia and said, we should kill them all. After the first six hours, I stopped looking at the comments. I am just glad to have contributed something positive to a troubling conversation.”