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Houston Filmmakers Address Islamophobia in New Movie

Roxanne is a hypothetical story, but the plot was inspired by current events.

The lobby of the River Oaks Theater was packed with people who were dressed to the nines on Thursday night for the red carpet premiere of Roxanne, a movie shot in Houston by two local filmmakers.

"Roxanne is basically a film about the effect of current Islamophobia," explains Syed Atif Ali, who directed and co-wrote the film with producer Shahid Iqbal. The main character, Rokhsana, is a college student who Americanizes her name to “Roxanne” after moving to Houston from Pakistan.

But the plot thickens from there.

"Roxanne happens to like a white boy and he happens to be the son of a senator," says Iqbal. "So that's the twist in the movie."

The senator is a staunch conservative who is afraid that his campaign will suffer if people find out his son has a Muslim girlfriend. Iqbal and Ali use the hypothetical scenario as a way to show how misunderstanding a culture can lead to hate.

Ali turned that into his motivation.

"There are depictions of Pakistanis, in particular, in a negative connotation in movies made by Hollywood or other mediums," Ali says. "Which was one of the main reasons why we decided to tell our story through our own vision."

After the movie, a crowd of people hung around to socialize, meet the cast and get some cake. Observing all the commotion from the side is a smiling, petite woman named Nayyar Ali. She was born in India but has been a U.S. citizen since 1976. She's also well aware of the stereotypes attached to being Muslim. "Everybody thinks people who are following Islam are corrupt, deceitful and terrorists," she says.

But others – like audience members Ali Iqbal and Narius Irani– say the current climate locally and nationally isn't as hostile to Muslims as the story implies.

"I just don't believe in any of those things that are portrayed the way they were portrayed," Iqbal says. "I'm just a die-hard American. I came with the proper legal citizenship. I think that's how everybody should enter the country."

Irani shared similar feelings.

"I know the movie was made to make people aware of what's going on here... which, yes, I'm sure there's a lot of it going on, but it's not that bad, in my opinion," he says.

Audience members can decide for themselves at a second screening of Roxanne at the University of Houston on Monday, November 7, at 6 p.m. inside the Student Center Theater. There will be an additional showing at the same location on Tuesday night at 7.

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