In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Aerospace Engineering Department and Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach hosted a screening of “Me, the Other,” a documentary set in Washtenaw County that shares stories from 12 students across diverse backgrounds.
In this Q&A, the film’s director, Shidan Majidi, touches on the political climate in this country and around the world, what we can do to support people from diverse backgrounds, and what it means to be an ally.
“Me, the Other” is a decidedly pro-immigrant, pro-black and brown, pro-working class, pro-LGBTQ, anti-gentrification film. At this moment in America, that feels especially powerful. Why now? How long has “Me, The Other” been an idea?
From conception to final cut, we made the movie in just under five months, which is unheard of. But back in 2016, a friend and I were having a conversation about how to deal with increasing prejudice on the streets of New York City. We saw that suddenly people were feeling like they had license to show outright prejudice and just not care. It was getting really, really alarming and scary. I grew up there, and I’d never experienced that.
So, look at the world that we live in. Look at Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Look at his vision and dream of unity so many decades ago. We still haven’t achieved that vision. So, now, when we live in a time where these acts of prejudice are so charged, we need to bridge the gap somehow.
But I also think right now we’re going through this era of taking the time to listen to each other. We know each other superficially, but we don’t really get to know each other, our plights, or stories. So let’s understand the human story behind each other.
Your film is a major event for Michigan Engineering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Do you feel any resonance or similarities between King’s message and the message of your film?
Again, look at our world right now. It’s not just the U.S. – it’s happening in countries across the world. There are all sorts of rhetoric about immigrants taking over jobs and media scrutiny. Fear takes over. Dr. King’s vision is really about unity. So it begs the question: Do we feel unified in this country, let alone the world? Do we see equal opportunity? Are we getting equal treatment regardless of race or gender or sexuality?
All the stories in this film are about people who aren’t given equal opportunity. These are people who are being treated like second-class citizens. It’s putting light on the fact that there’s still work to be done. Why do we have such a vast difference in the way we’re being treated? Why are we still so prejudiced?
“Me, The Other” has a lot of hard, challenging points where it touches on identity and acceptance – or sometimes lack thereof. Yet, by the end of the movie it feels optimistic. Do you feel hopeful?
For screenings of this film – or any other works of art or discussions around these topics – to be happening is huge. What we’re experiencing as a global community is forcing a lot of us to sit up and pay attention. Because what’s happening is an emergency, a disaster. What’s happening is affecting all aspects of our lives.
We’re a chain, and if one link becomes disconnected, we’ll all become disconnected. So all these little efforts we make can contribute and help us reconnect links in the chain. Right now, I really feel there’s an acceleration of interest in looking at these stories and issues.
There is such a polarized division in attitudes to this planet’s problems and its issues. It’s really separating us. So the only way I can contribute as an artist and storyteller is to create an opportunity to help tell stories. To really raise awareness of who we are, and help us connect on a deeper level. And hopefully through that connection we can deal with all the issues that are facing us as a planet.
At an institution, there’s often a desire from folks to be an ally, but we often hear that people don’t know how to start. Can you speak to that? What do you think it means to be an ally?
My life’s journey is about serving the planet somehow. And to serve the planet is to serve fellow human beings. So to be an ally is to be human. You can be an ally by just caring. And if you really care, if you’re authentically present with everyone regardless of their race or gender or sexuality, it can really open up connections and create a place of safety.
So, being an ally means opening your ears and heart and just accepting. We are so about putting up walls and defending ourselves and it closes us off. We’ve been taught to keep to ourselves and taken it to such an extreme, it is difficult to feel comfort and safety around others – at workplaces or school. Just open up your heart and be aware and be present. Everyone needs an ally.
The College of Engineering panel discussion was capture on video. To watch the video click here.
Those who missed the screening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day can find it at the Ann Arbor District Library, or keep an eye out for future screenings at the University.
Shidan Majidi has been working on Broadway for most of his career on some of the world’s most beloved musicals: Cats, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, The Phantom Of The Opera, Mary Poppins; and the Academy Award-winning film of the musical Les Misérables starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. He was the associate director of the North American tour of Miss Saigon. In 2009, he made his producing debut on the musical Yank! that was nominated as best New Off-Broadway Musical by the Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards. Majidi next project is a new docu-musical, Hash(Tag) America by former American Idol finalist Anthony Fedorov, which explores true modern-day stories within the fabric of the American experience.