The best documentaries compel viewers to consider their lived reality in a new light. Nausheen Dadabhoy’s latest work, An Act of Worship, does just that. Dadabhoy lovingly shines a spotlight on her community, and invites viewers to examine their own biases in a very powerful way. An Act of Worship was screened as a part of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival’s documentary competition.
An Act of Worship compels viewers to re-contextualize the events of the last 20 years, from the perspective of American Muslims. The documentary tells the story of various members of the Muslim community, and how their lives have been impacted in the wake of 9/11. While those outside of the Muslim community may remember these events strictly as a tragedy, the legislative ramifications are still being felt by Muslims in America and around the world.
Dadabhoy’s analysis of the blatant racism American Muslims are subjected to every day is sobering, but not surprising. Stories of horrific cruelty, inflicted by white children from such young ages, is a powerful indictment against the white supremacist society we live in. The bullies we hear about learned those views somewhere. It’s horrifying to hear.
Throughout the movie, there seems to be an Intentionality to spotlight female voices in the community. In a recent interview, Dadabhoy spoke about how, when visiting these diverse Muslim communities across the United States, she and her team were consistently re-directed to women doing incredible work. It’s inspirational, frankly, to see these women raise their voices when they’re otherwise told by American culture to just be quiet. Especially in the 20 years following 9/11, these women are fighting for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Dadabhoy succeeds in telling the stories of the very real impact Islamophobia of 9/11 still impacts real people with real families and real lies. The infamous “Muslim Ban” continues to keep families apart. It’s heartbreaking to see this play out in real time. It’s far more than an abstraction or a news piece to shake our heads at. It continues to tear families apart in the most heartbreaking way.
There’s also a deeply intelligent critical analysis of how policies that are euphemistically about “safety” are actually designed to target an entire community for their faith. Policies, or even just popular culture norms including “See Something, Say Something”, “Safe Cities”, or in Canada “The Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline” proposal all seep into society to other Muslims everywhere. In each story presented in An Act of Worship, we see the consequences of putting an entire community under this kind of surveillance for so long. Viewers are asked to consider, are we collectively any safer for it?
An Act of Worship is the most compelling kind of documentary. It’s an enthralling look inside a community that has been so maligned in the last twenty years. As sad as it is to see the impacts of policies on this community, there’s clearly reason for hope. Community activists shine as they advocate for their community in powerful ways. We’re asked an important question. Will we take the Islamophobia that has saturated the last two decades forward, or will we leave it in the ash heap of history where it belongs? The future is up to all of us.
An Act of Worship premieres at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.