Arab American Stories
Arab American Stories is a 13-part series presented by Detroit Public Television that explores the diversity of the Arab-American experience. Hosted by NPR's Neda Ulaby, each half hour features three short, character-driven documentaries produced by a variety of independent filmmakers which profile Arab Americans making an impact in their community, their profession, their family or the world at large.
Each week we will meet 3 different Arab Americans whose stories are juxtaposed around a particular theme. The series features people of all walks of life whose stories illustrate the Arab-American experience: artists, scientists, musicians, chefs, actors, businessman, cops, teachers. For example, we may meet a Lebanese-American butcher whose dedication to his work and family inspired a local theater company to write a performance piece about him. Then we may meet an Egyptian/Polish/American writer who mines her multi-cultural experience for a coming of age novel, or the Lebanese-American cousins who invented the Swarmatron, an electronic instrument which was used on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack of The Social Network.
Arab American Stories was shot all over the country by a team of talented filmmaker/producers who brought their varied experience to the stories. The stories feature Arab Americans of all walks of life who are having an impact – on their communities, their families, or the world at large. Episode descriptions are below:
Episode 1 – Arab Americans who have forged an unexpected path -- Diane Rehm lacked a college education but became a national radio host, Robby Ameen was born to Lebanese-American parents but has made a career as one of the top Afro-Cuban Jazz drummers in the world, Rabih Dow was blinded by an explosion during the Lebanese Civil War and found his life's work rehabilitating newly blind people at the Carroll Center for the Blind outside Boston.
Episode 2 – Three Arab Americans who navigate culture differences to become bridge- builders– hip hop artist Omar Offendum is a bridge between his Arab roots and American youth culture, Café owner Frederique Boudouani is bringing Algerian food and culture to Elkater, Iowa, the only town in American named for an Algerian Muslim war hero, and Aliya Suayah and her parents, Ismail Suayah and Krista Bremer embrace both American and Libyan culture at their home in North Carolina.
Episode 3 – America has always been a home for entrepreneurs. Inspired by the American Arts and Crafts movement, Nawal Motawi started Motawi Tileworks, a successful craftsman tile business in Michigan, Fahid Daoud and his brothers fulfilled the American Dream through a chain of chili restaurants that began in Cincinatti and spread through southern Ohio, and Moose Scheib built Loanmod, to help homeowners facing foreclosure figure out how to refinance and save their homes.
Episode 4 – Art and Life are inextricably intertwined in these three stories – Author Alicia Erian mines her life's experience for her books, stories and screenplays, Artist Huguette Caland has found America to be the place she can most freely express herself in her art, and Hassan Faraj's life was actually turned into art – the story of this neighborhood butcher became the subject of a community theater piece.
Episode 5 – The United States prides itself on being a nation of innovators, and these three Arab-Americans are part of that tradition. Imad Mahawili saw a problem with energy in the third world and set out to fix it. Amir Abo-Shaeer created the Dos Peublos Engineering Academy to inspire high school students to go into careers in science and math. And Brian and Leon Dewan have inventing in their blood and music in their souls and have married the two by making highly unique electronic instruments as Dewanatron. Their swarmatron is used on Trent Reznor's soundtrack for the movie The Social Network.
Episode 6 – So much is passed down from generation to generation – but it sometimes takes time for the next generation to recognize how the past affects their own lives. Hearing their family history shows three generations of the Abercia family how values are passed down from their forebears. Chef Ali El Sayed's son Esmaeel is just beginning to understand how his father's Egyptian heritage fits in with his own identity as a native-born American living in ethnically diverse Queens, and the family recipes Kamal Al-Faqih learned from his mother led him to his calling as a chef and cookbook author.
Episode 7 – Community is at the heart of American life. Social services provider and activist Linda Sarsour serves new immigrants and youth in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Imam Taha Tawil maintains spiritual vitality at the oldest mosque in America in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Dean Obeidallah performs across the country with a group of comedians who shatter popular myths and stereotypes.
Episode 8 - These Arab Americans all have a mission to help the wider community. Cardiologist Mahmoud Traina serves the working poor at a county hospital outside Los Angeles, but he also found time to take medical supplies to Libyans during the revolution. Sergeant Mike Abdeen and deputy Sherif Morsi run the ground-breaking Muslim Community Affairs unit for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Father George Shalhoub built St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church into a positive force for the people of Livonia, Michigan.
Episode 9 – These artists have all found new expression in their work by coming to America – oud player and composer Rahim AlHaj fled Iraq for political reasons. Now he fuses Middle Eastern and western influences together in his music, Malika Zarra was born in Morocco, grew up in France and found a creative home in New York's multi-cultural music scene. And Detroit artist Adnan Charara explores the idea of identity, personally and cosmically, in his painting and sculpture.
Episode 10 – American citizenship is coveted around the world. Teacher and political candidate Ferial Masry, union organizer Khalil Kaid, and Lawyers Nawar and Kareem Shora all feel a responsibility to uphold the precious rights granted to them as American citizens.
Episode 11 – Talented and artistic Arab Americans are charting their own course in very competitive fields. Opera star Hanan Alattar's passion keeps her going as she pursues an international stage career. Najla Said is an actress, playwright and author exploring her identity as a Palestinian-American and a quintessential Manhattanite. Fashion designer Rami Kashou charmed America as a finalist on Project Runway. His designs continue to wow the fashion world.
Episode 12 - Arab-Americans have made lasting contributions to American institutions-- Public Relations Executive Judy Habib talks about the legacy of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, Maha Freij found her niche as a development dynamo and helped grow ACCESS into largest Arab-American human services organization in the nation, and researcher and radiologist Dr. Elias Zerhouni had a transformative impact on medical research in the U.S. as Director of the National Institutes of Health.
Episode 13 - A new generation of Arab Americans are making their mark – actress Alia Shawkat, best known for her role on “Arrested Development,” is a rising independent film star, Mariem Masmoudi is a student trying to figure out how to merge her American and Tunisian identities to give back to both cultures, and former serviceman and DJ Ace Montaser is making his name on Detroit's airwaves.