Daniel Bottoms is an independent filmmaker based in Oklahoma City. A nurse by profession, he returned to college and nurtured a passion for the art of filmmaking. He has made and worked on several films. His most popular feature is a short film that focuses on American Muslims who pray in the airport. The idea was sparked by a pressing problem in the US at the time of the film’s making. A number of American Muslims were either kicked off of airplanes, or subject to extra screenings in response to their choice to pray before boarding their flights.
Since bringing attention to this issue through film, Daniel has been on a journey to explore the other challenges American-Muslims face in our country. During our meeting, Daniel and I discussed his interest in the Muslim community, his planned projects, and his response to criticism for his work.
Why are you interested in sharing the stories of the American-Muslim community?
I initially became interested in American Muslims after seeing the discrimination they face for their religion and culture. I wanted to explore more than what I saw in the media, I decided to see for myself what Muslims are like in Oklahoma. So I began to reach out to a community of Muslim friends and colleagues, and I learned about the anti-Muslim bigotry they have confronted in their lives.
As a former veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, I take pride in the work I have done to help ensure the freedom and safety of all Americans. However, those who discriminate against Muslims attack the things we all fought for and I take that personal. I want to be a part of this movement to end this prejudice.
How do you inspect, or study a potential film idea in this category?
In order to begin my research of the American Muslim community, I went to the local mosque to learn about Islam. I met with a local imam to get a better understanding of the religion. I know now that I was fortunate to get to know Imam Imad Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.
I also realized early on that American Muslims are no different than any other American. I approach them. I introduce myself. And then I let the conversation begin.
Why focus on anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia?
I believe the American media is the source of much negativity directed at American Muslims. Many people allow the media to dictate what they think and believe, and unfortunately many times it dictates them to think and believe in fear, paranoia, and bigotry.
So my focus isn’t simply about fear and bigotry, but my short films are focused on countering that fear and bigotry. I think we need creative ways to counter the influence that the media and our politicians have on many of us. I also recognize that my efforts are only a drop in the bucket, and I hope other people will start a conversation in their own communities, with their own neighbors, co-workers, and classmates.
How do you respond to people who disagree with your work?
You mean people who don’t want to have a conversation? (He laughed)
I am often forced to defend my Muslim friends and my work. I have met people who are convinced that the word Allah means “Satan.” It is hard to start a conversation with someone already taking such a biased and ignorant point of view. So I just ask them, “Have you ever talked to a Muslim?”
I believe ignorance is the root cause of this ongoing bigotry. Additionally, fear is used as a tool to manipulate and mobilize the masses for political and financial gain. To do the work I am doing, I have assumed the responsibility to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together so they can see each other for what they are: fellow Americans.
As a nurse, I understand the power of personal contact. I know the power personal connections can have on understanding one another, and I hope that my camera lens can connect American Muslims to those who fear them. At that point we can let the fear and bigotry end, and let the conversation begin.
– Daniel Bottoms was interviewed by CAIR-Oklahoma Intern Peter Jones. Bottoms more recently traveled the East Coast to document anti-Muslim events, and is working on his next project to document the challenges American Muslim students face in the public school system.