By Matthew Jaber Stiffler, Arab American National Museum
The first full of week of March 2012 was a week of VIPs and discussions of democratic ideals at the Arab American National Museum (AANM). Among the events was a talk by internationally acclaimed Egyptian-born filmmaker, Jihan El-Tahri; a tour of the museum with Bothaina Kamel, a female journalist running for president of Egypt; and an afternoon of community discussion with George Takei, actor and board member of the Japanese American National Museum. All three were here to engage with the theme of democracy and struggles for independence across the globe.
Jihan El-Tahri presented her work in her talk “Independence: Broken Promises and New Visions” on Wed., March 7. Jihan, known in the U.S. for her Frontline documentary House of Saud (2005), presented two of her films dealing with struggles for independence in the face of national and international governmental roadblocks. Jihan showed clips from 2008’s Cuba: An African Odyssey, which follows Cuban troops as they fought in the Congo under Che Guevara in the 1960s, and from Behind the Rainbow (2009), focusing on the transition that followed apartheid in South Africa. Jihan’s latest project, still being researched, documents the failure of the post-colonial state in Egypt and continued promises of independence. All three films are told from the perspective of the people, as Jihan focuses on individual stories. The talk was presented by the University of Michigan’s Women Visualizing Africa Film Series, in conjunction with the current AANM exhibition Fighting for Democracy: Who is the “We” in “We, the People”?, on display through June 10.
Friday, March 9, was another exciting day at the AANM, as we hosted actor and activist George Takei (Original Star Trek TV series and subsequent feature films) and Bothania Kamel, candidate for the Egyptian presidency. Though George and Bothania were visiting the museum independently and for different reasons, they are connected through their activism on behalf of democracy. Takei is an active board member of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), and spent the day at the AANM touring the museum and our latest exhibit Fighting for Democracy, on loan from the JANM. Kamel was in town to give a talk at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and wanted to visit the museum before heading back to Egypt. Toward the end of their visits, George and Bothaina met over Arabic coffee and sweets. George was thrilled to meet Bothaina and told her that she and the people of Egypt were an inspiration. As an active supporter of democratic ideals, and having lived in a Japanese internment camp as a child, George’s comments were especially meaningful. Bothaina was happy to meet such a famous television and film personality. And we were thrilled that our exhibits and events could bring so many people together to celebrate democracy.