“Me, The ‘Other’” is a film that doesn’t mince words. The documentary, produced by Scarsdale residents Sherry and Saeid Mirafzali and co-produced and directed by Shidan Majidi, is described as being about “hate.” More specifically, it sets 12 people in front of the camera and invites them to open up about their experiences with prejudice and diversity in their own lives.
The people featured in the film are all students from southeast Michigan, where Sherry Mirafzali was working at the University of Michigan when she came up with the idea for the film. The students in the film come from University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College, and Majidi and Mirafzali chose to stick with interviewing students for the purpose of getting a diverse group of young people to open up.
“I feel like the younger generation is more open to the ideas of oneness and unity and the university gave us the opportunity to interact with these young people,” said Mirafzali. “In my experience, places [where] we can have contact with the audience after the showing make more of an impactful conversation, like it's in a classroom setting and it benefits the audience more.”
Mirafzali and her husband, both doctors, moved to China in 2004 to do humanitarian work and start a hospital for communities in need. In 2016, they moved back to the U.S. and settled in Michigan to support sick family members and send their kids to college. Long before that, Mirafzali left Iran 30 years ago to escape conflict.
“It was our first time coming back to the U.S. after 15 years, and the diversity I noticed was beautiful to me,” said Mirafzali. “Being in China for 11 years, I didn’t see as many different people, but then walking on the university [campus] and seeing people at restaurants and shops, I loved the diversity.”
Mirafzali contacted Majidi, who went to college for both theater and film, to share the idea for the documentary. At the beginning of his career, Majidi volunteered at New York’s 52nd Street Project working with inner city kids and using theater to keep youth off the streets, and therefore was already interested in diversity projects and the power of art to explore prejudice.
The duo put out a casting call to local universities, not expecting to get many responses. Instead, they received more than 40 and ended up having to choose from the pool of interested people, some of whom later pulled out when they realized the risk of sharing their stories so openly.
“They’re all students from these three different campuses and the film is really a very simple storytelling exercise,” said Majidi. “It’s told in chapters and each student represents an issue or two or three. It’s just a straightforward storyline of how people in this world, this day and age, deal with being an ‘other.’ It just happens that every single story is very empowering.”
The film has been screened at a number of schools, colleges, libraries and community centers, as Mirafzali is not looking to make money but instead to spark conversation about issues people may not know others are dealing with. The film has already won a series of honors, including “Best Documentary Film Award” at the 2018 Buddha International Film Festival in India, an award at the 2019 Docs Without Borders Film Festival, and has been selected for showing at four other festivals so far. The film has inspired teachers and community leaders in many of the educational settings in which the documentary has been shown to request more time to lead discussions after the film.
“Almost everyone in the audience can see themselves in every single story, be it gay, trans, Asian, American, social, religious or cultural issues,” said Majidi. “People connect and never knew how much they have in common with other people and that's where the concept of oneness comes in, how much we share our stories and share the stories of our common humanity.”
The current iteration of the film is longer than the final version will be, as Majidi still has cutting and editing to make it a finished product. For now, the team behind “Me, The ‘Other’” held one of their first NYC screenings in Bronxville last week and plan to hold more in the future.
“Imagine if you had all roses, they’re beautiful, but not as beautiful as if you have all different kinds of flowers,” said Mirafzali. “We just have to open our eyes and hearts to the beauty of difference. I’m hoping through these stories, we can show every single life is a miracle that has its own beautiful story.”