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An American documentary captures the odds against being a soccer player from Somalia

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After his surprise election in March, the first country the newly-elected chairman of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) visited was Somalia. Ahmad—who only goes by one name—visited the Somali capital Mogadishu in mid-April and said the country could start hosting international games yet again. Ahmad even went as far as asking Somalia and neighboring Djibouti to organize friendly matches in Mogadishu.

But that will be a task easier said than done. Mogadishu Stadium, Somalia’s largest sports complex, still acts as a base for the African Union troops fighting the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The group still attacks at will and even killed the heads of Somalia’s soccer federation and the Olympic committee in 2012. Somali athletes and swimmers have also frequently fled the country—one of them even dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

But as the nation embarks on a slow political and economic recovery, sports is also making a comeback. Since 2011, mini-stadiums and neighborhood playgrounds have been renovated. Local companies are competing to sponsor soccer leagues, and foreign coaches and players from across Africa are flocking into the country to boost the profession. Girls are also returning to the court to play basketball—to the cheers of friends and families.

It is in this hopeful moment that the documentary Men in the Arena is being launched. The movie which, like the 1990s American basketball documentary Hoop Dreams, follows the story of two soccer players. Saadiq Mohamud and Sa’ad Hussein: two rivals on the pitch share a passion for Somalia’s most popular sport: soccer. Both players, however, unexpectedly find themselves on the same side when they are recruited for the under-18 Somali National Team. The two carry their country’s hope on their shoulders, even as they chase their professional dreams of playing outside Somalia.

“We made this film to humanize a people and a place that has been through an unimaginable quarter century of challenges,” J.R. Biersmith, the film’s director and co-producer, told Quartz. For Sa’ad and Saadiq, those incredible odds manifested in fleeing al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, and subsequently facing ethnic profiling and police harassment in Kenya.

After a friend sends around video footage of him playing to coaches, Saadiq lands a try-out with a US university and secures a visa to travel to the United States. Sa’ad, who by then had left Mogadishu, also enters the refugee resettlement program and goes to the US in March 2016. But their troubles don’t end there: after Donald Trump became president, he proposed to ban citizens and refugees from seven countries—including Somalia—from coming into the US.

“Both of them came to this country believing that the fear they’ve lived with all of their lives would dissipate,” Biersmith said, “but the travel bans and other anti-immigrant rhetoric brings it all back.” His hope is that the documentary will widen the narrow lens of fear and show the “outsized dreams” of Somali soccer players.

“The truth is now out there for the world to see,” he said.

Arts & Culture

MINNESOTA: Gustavus professor, student to show documentary on Somali-Americans

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Southern Minn — The hopes and experiences of several Somali-Americans are shown in “(Mid)west of Somalia,” a documentary by a professor-student team at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The film will be shown in its first local public showing at 7 p.m. March 1 at St. Peter High School Performing Arts Center.

Communications studies professor Martin Lang said it was project he embarked on, knowing there was more to the Somali-American story than the reports about terrorism recruitment or conflicts with new neighbors.

“As I’ve lived here in St. Peter for a dozen years now, I’ve come to know more and more of the population in St. Peter and the Somali population in particular,” he said. “I’ve come to know diverse sides of them. It was such a contrast with what I had learned and had known about Somali immigrants smashed up against the people I was meeting and I knew I can’t be the only one surprised at what is below the surface here.”

He and student Noah O’Ryan did the bulk of filming in the summer of 2016.

They talked with Somali-American community leaders as well as people they knew personally, and those connections helped them network more widely. The documentary subjects are all at least part-time students with at least part-time jobs. They primarily live in Mankato or St. Peter; a few are from Faribault.

Lang said they didn’t set out for the film to focus on people pursuing education. He suspects that is a product of the location and so many young Somali-Americans are seeking to do their best.

“Education is a really high priority for Somali families, especially for the first generation,” he said. “The millennial generation feels a really strong responsibility to do right by the family’s sacrifice.”

Lang said Somali-Americans are like many Minnesotans. They value education, want their hard work and effort respected and intend to be “fully fledged, contributing members of our communities in a variety of ways,” he said.

Hanan Mohamud is a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College from Faribault. She is pursuing a psychology degree and wants to be a physician’s assistant. She’s one of the Somali-Americans profiled in the documentary.

She was approached by Lang about being in the film a few years after she was in his public discourse class. She agreed to be involved because “It was empowering and I had a lot to say.” She also connected him to two others.

Mohamud said she agreed, in part, to combat demeaning stereotypes.

“Most people honestly have no idea,” she said. “They think we’re living off welfare and whatnot. A lot of us go to school and only came to the country to get an education.”

Education is something that can’t be taken away and can help their home country. She said the documentary shows what she and others have experienced in the U.S., along with their aspirations and their priorities.

“It’s a very good film,” Mohamud said. “There’s some humor in it and, obviously, there are serious parts. It looked well put-together and he made sure the voices of people he was filming were well heard.”

Some of the documentary’s subjects will be part of a panel with Lang after the showing. The documentary, which runs about 35 minutes, has been shown a few times to small groups, but this is the first large public viewing.

The showing comes as part of the first Thursday film series by the Nicollet County Historical Society and Community and Family Education. It is also sponsored by the college, city Department of Leisure and Recreation Services and Senior Center.

“I think this is an important film because it tells the story of people who live, work, and attend school in this area,” Community and Family Education Director Tami Skinner said. “I hope that it will generate conversations in the community which will lead people to reach out to their new neighbors.”

Lang said he hopes it spurs understanding and conversation.

“The bigger picture for me is communication and dialog and in sort of a difficult political time, dialog is so much harder than it used to be,” he said. “It’s so important for all of us to be able to talk and pay attention to each other at least a little bit. I want to inspire conversation across divides that keep us apart.”

I think this is an important film because it tells the story of people who live, work, and attend school in this area. I hope that it will generate conversations in the community which will lead people to reach out to their new neighbors.

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Arts & Culture

David Bowie’s Widow Iman attends Black Panther premiere

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DAILY MAIL — She has made a gradual return to the social scene, after taking some time away from the limelight, following the January 2016 death of her husband David Bowie.

And Iman showed off the supermodel prowess that first caught the eye of her late rocker husband, when she attended a special screening of Black Panther of Tuesday.

The 62-year-old beauty looked radiant as she arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in a shimmering silver floor-length gown, which she teamed with a stylish head wrap.

She has made a gradual return to the social scene, after taking some time away from the limelight, following the January 2016 death of her husband David Bowie.

And Iman showed off the supermodel prowess that first caught the eye of her late rocker husband, when she attended a special screening of Black Panther of Tuesday.

The 62-year-old beauty looked radiant as she arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in a shimmering silver floor-length gown, which she teamed with a stylish head wrap.

Iman made a triumphant return to the spotlight last year, following the death of her beloved husband David in January 2016.

Last summer, she paid a moving tribute to the late musical icon on what would have been the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary.

The Somalia-born beauty shared a post to remember her singer love, who tragically died aged 69 after a secret battle with liver cancer.

Alongside a black and white picture of the pair, a short piece of text read: ‘I would walk forever, just to be in your arms again.’

The image was captioned by Iman with the simple words: ‘June 6th #BowieForever’.

Bowie and Iman officially married in Switzerland in April 1992, but held a church ceremony in Italy on June 6 of that year.

They had one daughter together, Alexandria, who’s now 17. She is also the mother of 39-year-old daughter Zulekha, from her marriage to marriage to former basketball star Spencer Haywood.

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KENYA

Kenyan and German filmmakers celebrate Oscar nod

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TRT — “Watu Wote” is one of the first Kenyan films to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.

“Watu Wote” means “All of Us” in Swahili, the language spoken in Kenya. It depicts the true story of an extremist terror attack on a bus in the country.

Al Shabab militants attacked the bus in north-eastern Kenya just before Christmas, on December 21, 2015.

During the attack, some of the Muslim passengers helped shield and save the lives of a group of their fellow Christian passengers.

The incident inspired German film students to make a film about the attack.

“Oh, it just feels surreal, still,” said director Katja Benrath of the nomination.

The students had read about the attack in the German newspapers and decided to tell the story, based on its message of humanity and solidarity.

The film competes against four other films in the Best Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4 2018 in Los Angeles.

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