Filmmaker Nausheen Dadabhoy’s latest project, An Act of Worship, is an ambitious and enthralling journey through the 30 years of Muslim life in America. It’s a timely look at the very real implications Islamophobia has had on generations of Muslims who came of age in the shadow of 9/11.
As part of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Dadabhoy and speak about An Act of Worship. We talked about her process for bringing this documentary together, the modern consequences of Islamophobia, and what superhero project she’d love to be involved with in the future.
Dadabhoy has made the focus of her filmmaking career countering the negative imagery associated with the Muslim community at large. Although we as a society are more than 20 years removed from the terror attacks of 9/11, the reverberations are clear in the present day. Dadabhoy didn’t have to go outside of her own home to find these real impacts on real people.
One thing about An Act of Worship that’s immediately clear is how many Muslim women are doing incredible work. “We just kept meeting women at the frontlines of every movement,” Dadabhoy says of the subjects featured throughout the film. When the team travelled to these Muslim communities across the United States, there was inevitably a woman or a group of women engaging in activism on the ground.
“The women are doing the work,” Dadabhoy emphasized.
An Act of Worship evolved over time from how it was initially conceptualized. One of the most fulfilling aspects of bringing this project together that Dadabhoy identified was leaning into her own community. Dadabhoy also described the heartbreaking experience of continuing this project while the infamous Muslim ban was upheld in real-time.
Dadabhoy also spoke about how policy is an effective and insidious way that Islamophobia is codified into law. “Anti-Sharia” laws can be particularly popular across the United States. Under these laws, “Even something like prayer would have been criminalized,” Dadabhoy underscores. “Even if they don’t end up becoming ultimately successful, they still drum up this kind of…cultural capital and we see that ricocheting with the election of somebody like Donald Trump,” she continues.
Dadabhoy also has an important message for viewers outside of the United States, who might watch An Act of Worship and believe their own nations are free of Islamophobia. “Programs like ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ were…very successfully exported to other parts of the world,” she explains. “So, if you have a Prevent program or if you have a Strong Cities program, you still have a surveillance program of Muslims”.
When looking at the present and future, Dadabhoy noted how little rhetoric towards the Muslim community has changed since 9/11. However, this is tempered with cautious optimism. “I do have hope in all of the amazing activists who are working,” she explained. The community activism and engagement showcased in An Act of Worship is an unabashedly powerful response to racism that plagues Muslims in the United States to this day.
“We need Muslim creators to be able to tell their own stories and to be able to tell their own stories outside of the framework of the War on Terror,” Dadabhoy concluded. She spoke about the necessity of series like Ms. Marvel in forging the future of Muslim representation in popular culture.
Of any goals to work in a comic book universe herself, Dadabhoy is clear: “I love the Mutants”. She continued, “If someone wants to…re-imagine X-Men with a Muslim angle, I’m all about that”. No doubt, with her talent for compelling storytelling, Dadabhoy would be among the best to explore that side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
An Act of Worship had its World Premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.