To open this year’s Diversity Symposium on February 20, Middlesex welcomed back Patrick Callahan ’97, who enthusiastically introduced a recent film, Amira and Sam, for which he served as an executive producer.
Bringing with him the movie’s screenwriter and director, Sean Mullin, and actress Dina Shihabi (who played Amira), Patrick praised the film for having “an accessible piece about what it is like for veterans to reintegrate in civilian life after being in a war.” Having served in the military for 10 years, including several tours in Iraq, Patrick was pleased to contribute to a project led by a fellow veteran like Sean; a West Point graduate, Sean also served in the Army and was stationed at Ground Zero while in the National Guard.
After viewing the movie, the School was treated to a Q&A session, gaining insight into the inspiration for the story and the collaborative process of filmmaking. Departing from typical military plotlines, Sean explored a different idea: What if a soldier comes home fine, but America has lost its mind? He combined that concept with the unlikely love story of Sam, a recently discharged American soldier, and Amira, the niece of Sam’s Iraqi translator. The result is an appealing romantic comedy that also touches on the difficult experiences of both veterans and immigrants. When asked if he had a particular message in mind for the movie, Sean replied, “Challenging perceptions.” He wanted not only to show the tension between who people are and who they think they are but also to question common assumptions about veterans and immigrants. “You can’t paint everyone with a broad brush,” he said.
Conversation continued in a broader context on Saturday morning during a panel discussion moderated by three Middlesex faculty members: Carmelo Larose, director of community and multicultural development; Tashana Dukuly, coordinator of multicultural student outreach; and Tom Kane, head of the arts division. Two more guests also joined the group to talk about their work and reflect on its connection to the film.
As the national policy director at The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, Katherine Reisner spoke about her efforts to advocate for refugee clients, helping them to navigate the complexities of American immigration law; the Iraqi characters and their plight in Amira and Sam reminded her of several clients she has supported. Also joining the panel was Monica Veth, who serves as an outreach/case management coordinator for Lowell Community Health Center Teen BLOCK. Many of the Cambodian teenagers she mentors there are trying to negotiate the conflicting values of more than one culture – just like Amira and, interestingly, the actress who portrayed her.
While the panelists ostensibly represented a range of fields – from artistic and legal realms to military and nonprofit organizations – it was surprising to see that their concerns were interconnected and centered on similar goals: freedom, family, and home. As one panelist summed up, “With each interview that I do, I find that people are people are people, despite cultural differences.”