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Tribeca Film Fest 2018: “Time For Ilhan” Film Review

I remember watching the news cycles about Ilhan Omar when she defeated the longtime incumbent Phyllis Kahn for Minnesota state representative of District 60B. But living in Texas, I only knew about the victory and didn’t know much about Omar, besides her being an immigrant and a Muslim woman, and the history she made by winning. When I saw the documentary lineup for the 2018 Tribeca Film Fest, I was excited to get to know more about Omar’s story with the film “Time for Ilhan.”

The documentary film is directed by Norah Shapiro and follows Omar through her whole campaign. Omar immigrated to the United Sates from Somalia in the ’90s. She states in the film that she was in a refugee camp for four years before getting sponsorship to move to the United States. The videos they show at orientation showed the American dream and the big houses. What Omar saw when landing in New York City was anything but shiny houses. Eventually her family moved to Minnesota, where there is the largest per capita population of Somali refugees.

We don’t see much about Omar’s upbringing in between her landing in the United States and her state run, but it is mentioned that the loss of her mom at a young age was hard on the family and herself. In the opening moments of the film, you see Omar tell her daughter (while brushing her hair) that her siblings used to shave her head bald because she didn’t have a mom to brush it like she was doing. It’s one of those moments that just hits you in the heart and makes what Omar has done even more powerful.

Shapiro takes us inside Ilhan’s home and campaign trail with a sensitivity and objective viewpoint. Although this film is about Ilhan, Shapiro makes it a point to show the other candidates (when they were willing to cooperate), Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor. Kahn is an interesting woman herself and was the 43-year incumbent to beat. You get the sense that she’s endured a lot to get where she is, but she’s also stuck in the old times. Kahn has her own story about breaking down barriers, having gone against society’s norms and graduated from Yale with a PhD in Biophysics. She’s a talented and experienced lady and at times you think, ‘man, this district has three qualified Democratic candidates that are all trying to do the “right” thing and make change they way they think is best.’

Shapiro also has a way of being there for the pivotal moments, but not intruding. You feel like you’re there with Omar and her team through the pressure-filled moments of the campaign and it’s captivating. Shapiro couldn’t have known Omar would win, so it makes the journey to that moment even more compelling, because it was history unfolding without them even knowing. Politics can get ugly and although we don’t see too much nastiness, we do see some heated moments between Omar, Kahn and Noor. They are all very civil in approach, but Kahn does take some low blows and Noor doesn’t want to concede the race.

The documentary is not simply an ode to Omar, it’s not a straight documentary about her life or a cheesy inspiring depiction of Omar. Yes, you instantly fall in love with Omar because you see her leadership and ease with speaking and connecting with people that makes you want to root for her. But you also get to see the ups and downs and the support from her family and team and what it took for her to win. Shapiro also chooses to not end the documentary with Omar’s victory, but with her campaigning for Hillary and the ultimate setback of change when Donald Trump is elected.

There is even a nice moment when Kahn admits defeat and that it was the will of the people. I must say, as I love inspiring stories, the end credits give the viewer hope (depending on your political stance) when all the women of color are shown winning elections in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory. If you’re looking for a real-life story of courage, hope and overcoming obstacles, you’ll want to watch “Time for Ilhan.”

You can catch “Time for Ilhan” at Tribeca Film Fest at the following times: 

Sunday, April 22, 2018 at 8:15PM at REGAL-06
Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 (RGL) 102 North End Ave, New York, NY 10281

Monday, April 23, 2018 at 3:45PM at CIN-02
Cinepolis Chelsea (CIN) 260 West 23 Street, between 7 and 8 Avenue, New York, NY 10011

Friday, April 27, 2018 at 8:15PM at REGAL-06
Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 (RGL) 102 North End Ave, New York, NY 10281

For tickets and more information visit www.tribecafilm.com. We’ll be on the ground at Tribeca. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for all our shenanigans! To learn more about “Time for Ilhan” and where to watch it next visit https://www.timeforilhanfilm.com/.

Featured image credit: Ilhan Omar | Photo credit: Chris Newberry

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