December 3rd, 2015, “The Citizen” played in Robertson Hall at Butler University. The film began in a courtroom, with a young, middle-eastern man sitting on the witness stand. A lawyer was asking him questions, yelling, “Why are you here??”
As the scene switches to an airport, we learn that the man from the witness stand is a Lebanese immigrant named Ibrahim Jarrah. He has come to the United States by being the lucky winner in a Green Card Lottery. Upon his arrival in New York City, Ibrahim expected his cousin to pick him up from the airport, but his cousin never came.
Ibrahim then finds a cheap motel in the city, where he meets a woman named Diane. He and Diane soon become friends, and they tour the
city together. The evening after his arrival, Ibrahim falls asleep in his motel room. The next morning he is awakened with the news that terrorists have flown planes into the Twin Towers. During an unsetting talk with an Indian man, Moe, Ibrahim learns that this event may change the way he is accepted in the U.S., all because of his skin color.
Soon after, Ibrahim is detained by the police. He is interrogated for six months because he has the same last name as one of the terrorists. Eventually, the police are forced to release him as there is no evidence proving his guilt.
Once Ibrahim is released, he moves in with Diane and attempts to find a job. Unfortunately, there is a lack of openings in the city, and Ibrahim’s search is all the more difficult because of his background. He experiences much discrimination.
Finally, Ibrahim finds work at a gas station working for the man he met months ago, Moe. Everything seems to be going better for Ibrahim, he even has begun dating a Muslim woman from his Continuing Education class. Additionally, in an effort to be a good citizen, Ibrahim welcomes a homeless man, Mickey, to come live with him and Diane. Diane is not pleased. Soon after, the gas station where Ibrahim works is robbed, and then Mickey also robs Diane. Ibrahim loses his job and is also kicked out of Diane’s apartment.
While Ibrahim is walking through the city, trying to figure out his next step, he witnesses a couple of thugs beating a young man. Ibrahim saves the man and becomes an overnight hero. The man who he saved is so grateful that he gives Ibrahim a job at his car company.
Unfortunately, this is when Ibrahim is threatened with deportation because he might be a “threat” to the United States government. Ibrahim, with the help of his friends, fights this injustice. The trials begin, and many there are many unfounded accusations against Ibrahim. During a pivotal point in the trial, Ibrahim makes a profound speech addressing the prejudice and injury he has experienced all because he is a Muslim Lebanese man. He states that the United States is now his home, and therefore he deserves the rights afforded to every American. He sites to US history to remind the courtroom how his immigrant story is the story of the founders of America. Ibrahim wins the trial and is granted full U.S. citizenship.
After the film, the audience participated in an interesting discussion about “accepting the stranger.” Many stated their concern with growing tensions between races, especially because of events like the recent mass shooting in California. One woman stated the importance of accepting those who are different and implementing change no matter how uncomfortable it is. In the U.S., there seems to be the mentality that an immigrant must obliterate his heritage in order to “fit in.” This is a big problem, and citizens need to be more aware of it. In the future, we must rid our mind of certain stereotypes and make a conscious effort to communicate with and accept those who seem “different.”
By: Angie Brown
A New View Film Series is Presented and Facilitated by the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Global Justice, The Center for Interfaith Cooperation, Butler University’s Amnesty International and The Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University.