Through Adeela OC Filmmakers Explore Islamophobia

As the possible hate crime killing of Iraqi Muslim Shaima Alawadi in El Cajon has ignited discussions on Islamophobia, Adeela an Orange County-based film in pre-production seeks to explore the dialogue further on the silver screen. The story centers around a young Arab-American Muslim woman who moves to a small conservative suburban town. Adeela, played by actress Charity Johnston, becomes the love interest of a local city councilman's son, Aaron.

With the town's Fourth of July festival approaching, the couple push to have Adeela sing the national anthem, an initiative that rankles Aaron's family members and bigot neighbors. How the issue comes to be resolved could stand to change the community forever.

The motivation for the film short, written and directed by OC's Nicholas Paul Ybarra, was based on the sad, sordid display of Islamophobia gone wild last year outside a fundraiser in Yorba Linda where politicians, including Villa Park councilwoman Deborah Pauly, and everyday bigots berated the event. “It kind of blew my mind,” says Adeela co-producer Patricia Abi-Rached when she watched the videos on YouTube of people spewing hate at families as they entered and exited the fundraiser. At that point the Garden Grove resident by way of Beirut, Lebanon, who had known the filmmaker in school, wanted to get involved with the project.

If the impetus for Adeela came from the shadow side of Orange County's infamous intolerance, its positive support has come from here as well. I first learned about the film project picking up a postcard as I ordered a Lebanese pizza from Zait & Zataar Restaurant and Bakery in Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave. Sponsors include Olive Tree, the Arab World Newspaper, and Ara's Pastry. The Huntington Beach Film Commission is supporting the effort and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering its services in helping develop the script.

Abi-Rached, as an Arab Christian immigrant woman of color, can also relate to the experiences and expectations of the main character in the film. “She's a Muslim, she wears a hijab, she has her belief and everything, but all she knows is America,” the co-producer says of Adeela. “This is how I felt as well. My family and I came to America as a place where you can be yourself, do your thing, build a future for your kids, and do all this without being judged by anybody else. That's how she feels.”

To tell the story, the cast and crew has been working on the film for almost a year now. They had tried a Kickstarter campaign early on, but didn't meet the monetary goal. The website for the film still offers incentive-laden pledge levels to meet the $68,000 budget. The moral objective of Adeela remains intact just the same and still propels their efforts. “Our goal is for people to watch it all over the world, not just Arabs,” says Abi-Rached hoping to see the project through. “We're basically fighting for this movie to be done to get the message out about justice and equality.” The ideal timeline would see shooting commence in late May with completion and release slated by the end of the year. That can only happen, though, if sufficient funds pour in.

Towards that end, filmmakers are hosting the first fundraiser for Adeela this weekend at the Golden Nights Restaurant in Buena Park. Donations will help see the movie through its pre-production, production and post-production phases as well as financing ambitious film festivals submissions. The community fundraiser will feature raffle prizes, music, special guests, videos and food. Those in attendance will also have the opportunity to mingle with Adeela's cast and crew.

“The point of the event is to have anybody and everybody from Orange County come to support the film,” Abi-Rached adds. “It's just the start.”

Adeela's fundraiser takes place at Golden Night Restaurant, 7115 Buena Park, Sat., April 7, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. $25 pre-sale. $30 door.

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