Disclosure: KUT is a media sponsor of the Austin Film Festival.
“The Muslims are Coming” is a documentary that follows a group of Muslim comedians as they travel through small towns in the South. Their goal is to foster a dialogue about Muslim-Americans through humor.
“We go to places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia … you know, places where they love 'the Muzzies,'” says comedian Negin Farsad, the film’s director and star.
Even before the jokes start, as a viewer it’s difficult not to think, “what are they doing?” Early on, Farsad stands in front of a retirement-aged crowd in a sterile church community room, starting her set by detailing what the New York City club scene is like for a Muslim woman. It’s only when the crowd breaks into laughter the audience can take a breath, as tension begins to melt through Farsad’s self-effacing charms.
In a similar manner, vignettes like “Name That Religion” – hosted in town squares by Farsad and his troupe, in a booth labeled “Ask a Muslim” –may cause viewers to cringe a little in anticipation of any controversy. Our stomachs take a rollercoaster ride through the routines.
At one point, a group of Muslim girls walk out in the middle of a set and Farsad’s expression falls. Viewers then realize the comedian’s battle is much bigger than challenging the prejudice that all Muslims are terrorists: it’s about taking a stand against the tyranny of silence from within.
“Being a comedian is highly illegal in Iran,” says Farsad, admitting how difficult it is to be rejected by some of the very people she is working to defend. “But no matter how they react to me, I will always fight for them in whatever capacity I can.”
The film is peppered with well-known comedians like Jon Stewart, David Cross and Janeane Garofalo; its twists and turns are surprising reminders that even the most mundane, everyday occurrence is an opportunity to explore and expand our ideas of identity and our position in the world.
You can catch the world premiere of “The Muslims Are Coming” during the Austin Film Festival tonight, Friday Oct. 19 at the Bob Bullock IMAX theatre, and a repeat performance Oct. 21st at the Austin Convention Center.