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Public Television’s Arab American Stories
By Ray Hanania
I am constantly on the prowl for anything Arab American, or, as I prefer to call it, “American Arab.” I’m an American first and an Arab; very proud to be an Arab of Palestinian heritage. I’ve been doing it since I first started in professional journalism in 1975 when I launched the “Middle Eastern Voice” and later the “Arab American View” English language newspapers. I had noticed that mainstream American journalism was deficient and incomplete, and in many respects unprofessional, falling short on its fundamental mission to report the news objectively and completely and without bias.
We all know that the American mainstream news media is incomplete, very biased and has little objectivity, especially when it comes to American Arabs. It wasn’t until last year that an American TV station dared to finally, after more than a 15 years, broadcast the news reporting of alJazeera English — most American Cable TV stations refused to broadcast more than one 30 minute segment because of pressure from the pro-Israel lobby which is fighting anything that promotes Arabs and especially Palestinians in a positive light.
Recently, I was flipping through channels on TV, skipping through a lot of movies including many that are driven by anti-Arab stereotyping and post-Sept. 11 anti-Arab hatred, when I stumbled on a great series called “Arab American Stories” broadcast in Chicagoland on WYCC TV, which is an affiliate of Public Television.
I had heard of the series through my friend, Warren David, who was based in Detroit and has also shared my obsession with everything Arab. He’s the publisher of “Arab Detroit” and served briefly as the National President of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). It began broadcasting in July 2012.
The series makes me feel so proud to be American Arab. Although most if not all of the stories are based in the Greater Detroit region, which has a large American Arab and non-Arab Arabic speaking population, the stories reflect a common denominator that is shared throughout the Arab community in this country. We have so many successful stories.
Each episode is produced professionally, in contrast to a lot of what passes for American Arab journalism today. Very journalistic and answering all of the basic calls of journalism writing: who, what, when, where, why and how. Much of what is written and broadcast in American Arab journalism is either commentary or writing driven by partisanship. And most of it is so political, explaining for the one-thousandth time, why we lost the Palestine war in 1948 and agonizing in anger and emotion about it.
But not this program. Thirteen episodes, each showcasing three features and profiles of American Arabs from the Detroit region who have made a difference in the world.
Wow. What a ingenious concept! To focus on the achievements of Arabs in America.
You can view a summary of each episode by visiting the website at www.ArabAmericanStories.org. The website is designed by Warren David’s company and I believe his daughter is also involved in the production. David is listed as a member of the production team.
Here is one of the episodes from Youtube:
But here is a summary of the series from the website:
Arab American Stories is an Emmy Award-winning 13-part series presented by Detroit Public Television that explores the diversity of the Arab-American experience. The series was produced by Alicia Sams (who was also the producer/director of the Emmy Award-winning film “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama”) and is 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.
I also know one of the producers, Usama Alshaibi, who interviewed me several years ago when I was doing standup comedy. I’ve been interviewed more than a million times so I don’t know whatever happened to that one. But Usama is a pioneer in the field of AMerican Arab broadcast communications.
Usama Alshaibi was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1969 and spent his formative years living between the United States and the Middle East. His work in film and video has been screened at numerous film festivals and venues across the globe. In early 2004 Usama and his wife returned to his birthplace in Iraq to shoot his first feature documentary titled Nice Bombs. The documentary had a theatrical release in 2007 and a broadcast premiere on the Sundance Channel in March 2008. Usama has completed more than forty short films that are on various international DVD compilations. His films have screened at such places as Anthology Film Center in New York and The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. He has also produced and directed music videos for a variety of musicians and record labels. In addition to reaching an eclectic audience with his film work, Alshaibi’s photography and art have been included in various gallery exhibitions and web publications. An interview with Usama appears in Studs Terkel’s book Hope Dies Last and his films have been included in Jack Sargeant’s book Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground. Feature articles have been written about his work in such places as the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, and Variety.
Alshaibi’s films have received several grants, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award, an award from the Creative Capital Foundation for the Arts and a Playboy Foundation award. He is also the winner of the Creative Promise award at Tribeca All Access in New York City. Currently Alshaibi just completed his latest narrative feature titled Profane and working on a documentary on Arab-Americans under a diversity fellowship at Kartemquin Films.
You can view some of the series episodes online at this link. Click here.
A very inspiring series that hope catches on.
(Ray Hanania is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News and an award winning columnist with Creators Syndicate. Read his columns at www.RayHanania.com or email him at RayHanania@TheArabDailyNews.com.)
Photo Credit: Photo of Detroit Public Television from the website of Arab American Stories. Usama alShaibi’s photo from Wikipedia.
This post has been viewed 4405 times.
Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com www.arabnews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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