By Nicole Wong
UC Irvine Student Affairs’ New Narratives committee hosted a screening and discussion last Tuesday of the film “Boiling Pot” to address racism in modern-day America.
Discussion panelists included the film’s writers and producers, brothers Omar and Ibrahim Ashmawey and producers Andrew Luu and UCI alumnus Russell Curry.
Through film screenings, guest speakers and panel workshops, New Narratives strives to get people talking about social issues and encourages them to take action. Tuesday’s event aimed to examine how racism can affect a community, especially among college students.
“Our goal is that after each of the New Narratives series, you leave thinking, questioning and exploring,” said Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor and Head of New Narratives Fred Lipscomb. “While you will not get all of the answers, you will have at least begun to process.”
“Boiling Pot” is a 2015 film set on a college campus in the midst of the 2008 presidential election. At the beginning of the film, a dummy is hung from a noose on the campus, sparking racial tensions between the Black Student Union and Kappa House. All incidents detailed in the film are based on true events.
“We wanted to put out something that addresses a very serious issue in our country today, and I think just listening to the current election that’s happening, you can tell that racism is not a thing of the past,” said Omar Ashmawey. “It’s a very serious issue and it’s something that’s very alive today.”
Fourth-year undergraduate Myrna Rosales was glad to see this issue being brought to UCI.
“Issues happening at a national level trickle back down to campuses,” said Rosales, who also serves as a New Narratives student representative. “Being at a university allows students to think critically about social issues that relate back to the campus. We have the access of academia to raise questions and it provides the tools to contribute in moments of decision making.”
During the discussion, audience members were given the chance to ask the panelists questions about the film and racial issues in general. Some shared their own stories of racial persecution and all applauded the filmmakers for having the courage to tell this story.
Ibrahim Ashmawey explained that he didn’t know much about racial tensions on college campuses until he contacted Curry. From details of events Curry related to Ibrahim, it became clear to him and Omar that this was a real problem that needed to be brought to light. The best way they knew how to do that was through film.
“We wanted to tell stories that were important,” said Omar. “I feel like we live in a day and age where media is so important. If you think about it, we learn our news through the media. We learn what to believe is right and wrong through the media. There’s one family member in each living room that when this family member speaks, everyone stops to listen. And it’s not the mom or the dad, it’s not any of the kids, it’s the television set.”
The four panelists also stated that their main goal in creating “Boiling Pot” was not to share their opinions on the situation but to start a dialogue. By getting people talking, they hoped to spread awareness of the issue and inspire others to do the same.
“Everybody is probably going to see a reflection of themselves in this movie and through that they can begin to question their own beliefs,” said Curry.
Many audience members also noted how uncomfortable the film made them feel. Luu confirmed that it was supposed to make people uneasy so they would really think about racial issues and hopefully apply it to their own lives.
“Self-reflection is not ever generally a pleasant thing for most people because self-reflection entails you want to get to somewhere where you weren’t before, which means that you have to step out of your comfort zone and your bubble,” said Luu.
Omar described race as the “elephant in the room” that never leaves until it’s addressed.
“People are so uncomfortable to talk about it that we never get to the healing part because we just refuse to acknowledge it altogether. “
Omar also stressed the importance of understanding both sides of the situation, instead of assigning blame to any one person or group, as well as noticing the systemic flaws and doing something about it.
“We’re not going to solve a problem like this by polarizing other people,” said Omar. “On the contrary, you need to bring people together and that means having some uncomfortable discussions. If we all decide that we are just going to sit back and watch and let someone else deal with this problem, it’s going to come back and hurt us.”