Written by Thushari Perera
“Dastaar”, a ten-minutes long film, directed by Javian Ashton Le freely available on Vimeo, tackles an issue insufficiently explored by our mainstream film industry: Islamophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities post 9/11.
The film was produced well before Donald Trump decided to run for US presidency, the “Muslim Ban”, and the post-Brexit rise in hate crime in the UK.
“Dastaar”, the title of the film, is said to refer to the turban, an article of faith among Sikhs that represent devoutness, valour and integrity. The main characters of this film are Harpreet (Sathya Sridharan), a Sikh-American and his white girlfriend Emily (Olivia Gilliatt). The plot centres on their car journey to see Harpreet’s father, who was hospitalised after an assault in New York.
The film, with its eerie atmosphere, compels the unaware to consider how easy Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people can involuntarily get into trouble even when we are only going about our daily businesses (e.g. shopping, travelling etc.).
According to the Washington Square News, NYU Alum Javian Ashton Le’s film was inspired by conversations about Islamophobia with his roommate, who has experienced it first-hand, as many other Sikhs in the US who are mistaken for Muslims.
In the UK, after years of campaigning by organisations as the Institute of Race Relations and charities focusing directly on racial violence as the Monitoring Group and Tell MAMA (anti-muslim hate crime), mainstream media reporting on racial violence and Islamophobia appears to have increased, especially after the recent terrorists’ attacks in the UK and Brexit.
Advice and guidance on how to report hate crime are also easier to find online: see for instance the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC). There is also more occasional media interest in brutal racist attacks as the one endured by asylum seeker Reker Ahmed (that left him with a blood clot on his brain and a fractured skull), although more community-led research on racial violence is often marginalised.
Beyond numbers and statistics, what is still lacking is a wider media engagement on the pervasiveness of “everyday racism” that perhaps only a film can deliver. It is exactly what this film by talented US director Javian Ashton Le skilfully achieves, and that is the main strength of the film.
There is not, as far as I know, a large number of films that tackles Islamophobia, except perhaps independent or crowdfunded films that are starting to emerge, especially in the US. In the UK, the debate on how to improve the lack of media diversity is still at its infancy, as well as its corollary, funding. As British actor Riz Ahmed would say, our visual heritage is more likely to be plagued by negative portrayals of Muslims.
I cannot really find any weaknesses in this independent film, which I suspect had a small budget, except perhaps that it is too short.
With the sharp rise in far-right movements and a punitive anti-migrant mood in the UK, mainland Europe and the US, I wholeheartedly recommend you all to watch this subtle and haunting short film, as it has an international resonance and it is a good starting point for a greater dialogue on panethnic solidarity.