Sarah El Attar and Amal Mouttaki are two French Moroccan filmmakers.
In 2016, Sarah and Amal decided to travel to the United States, during the presidential election, to film a documentary called Togæther – a contraction Together and To Gather – on the perception of Muslims in America.
Throughout this journey, they explored cities like New York, D.C, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles and met Muslims from all walks of life.
In the interviews, the filmmakers listened to everyone’s perspective and experience allowing American Muslims to take back the narrative, tell their own stories and challenge existing stereotypes.
How did we get the idea to film a documentary about American Muslims? What inspired us to make it?
As young French Muslims, we have grown up in a post 9/11 context, in a world where Islam has always been stigmatized and portrayed negatively by the mainstream media. It’s in this specific context that we had to build our identity as young Muslims in the West.
We have witnessed the simplification and generalization of media discourses around Muslim Faith and watched all of this build up stereotypes conflating Islam and terrorism, causing inherently the development of Islamophobia to the point that the distrust and hatred of Muslims have become commonplace.
We were simply overwhelmed by all of that and everything that happened these past few years. We feel sad, angry and even depressed every time we hear about a terrorist attack because innocent lives are being taken. But we also feel extremely frustrated by the backlash that follows, the demonization of Muslims and the normalization of islamophobia.
As many other Muslims, we felt emotionally drained. We reached the point we could not be passive anymore, we had to do something and that’s how the whole idea of Togæther came to life. We did not have a lot of funds or the best equipment. At that time, we had just finished our studies but we decided that we did not want to be bystanders anymore and needed to take an action with our own means. We could not continue to allow others to write or tell our stories for us.
Making this documentary was our way of using our skills, creativity and talents to try to make a difference, to promote tolerance and coexistence, to raise awareness about islamophobia and racism.
We hope that this documentary can challenge misconceptions and stereotypes, get people thinking and stir up a debate through human stories, stories of American Muslims. We hope to show diversity among the Muslim community because the representation of Muslims in the media and political conversations are very reductive.
Our goal is also to humanize Muslims, we hope that hearing American Muslims confide, talk about their experiences and how they feel, will allow viewers to see them in a different light and understand their situations. We want to highlight the power of words and images used in the mainstream media and by politicians sometimes to manipulate, to encourage fear-mongering, to reinforce ignorance and divide people.