Stereotypical representations of Arab-Americans as hyper-religious or terrorists are all too common, and one Detroit filmmaker hopes to challenge these notions in a new romantic comedy. “Detroit Unleaded” tells the story of two young Arab-Americans, Sami and Najila, falling in love and balancing culture, romance, and everyday life in Detroit. Lebanese filmmaker Rola Nashef originally produced the film as a short, and was encouraged by local community members to create a full-length version.
In a recent Q&A with Truthout, Nashef describes the challenges of dating within Arab-American communities, racial tensions among different groups in Detroit, and what inspired the film.
I wanted to present a story that was told through an Arab-American dynamic instead of explaining Arab-American culture. It was my goal to create complex characters on both sides of the glass, seen through an Arab-American perspective. If I can get an audience member to identify with Sami, who is trapped in a job that he doesn’t like — and just happens to be Arab — that audience member is bonding with a person that they have been told is their enemy.
I think it is important to balance our image with more universal experiences. Who hasn’t lied to sneak out of the house to see their crush or been stuck in a job they don’t like?