Osamah Sami came to Australia as a refugee at the age of 12, and now stars opposite Helana Sawires in Ali’s Wedding. Photograph: Madman
G’day, Senator Hanson,
Don’t be alarmed: I’m a peaceful Osamah – and pretty much an assimilated one. I say “pretty much” because while firing up a barbie is now an instinctive summer tradition, I still favour baklava over beer, and hummus over ham.
I’d love to invite you, and members of your staff, to my film Ali’s Wedding, which is showing in cinemas nationally at the moment. It’s a feel-good romantic comedy set in my community: a Muslim Iraqi community in Melbourne.
The film has already won audiences over across this beautiful continent; we won the audience award for best film at the Sydney film festival, and came runner up at the Melbourne film festival. We’ve also won critics’ and jury prizes, which is super exciting for someone like me – especially since I came to Australia as a refugee at the age of 12, illiterate in English.
The story is based on my life. I grew up in Iran during the eight-year war with neighbour Iraq. My parents were Iraqis, which meant as an Arab I was an outsider in Iran – even though dad was fighting for the Iranians, against his birthplace. Iran had given him shelter when he escaped Saddam Hussain’s brutal regime and he felt indebted to the country which had protected him. That in turn instilled an eternal love for Australia in me, as I saw it as the place which gave me and my family sanctuary when we eventually fled the war.
Ali’s Wedding is a migrant story, and opens up the doors for many in the wider society to access a side of the Aussie narrative that has limited exposure in our culture and pop culture. When I open the newspaper, the only time I see myself reflected is whenever an Abdul or an Ahmed has committed a sinister crime; my film is a tiny step towards reflecting a brighter world for us. And I want to bring you into that world; I want you to see how much of it is the same as yours.
Many audiences have commented that once they are watching the film, they forget that all the main characters are Muslim. I think it’s because audiences have connected emotionally with the film’s universal themes of love, family and duty – themes that don’t discriminate against faith or skin colour.
The night Ali’s Wedding screened at the Sydney’s state theatre, in front of a film festival audience of 2,000, a 21-year-old girl came up to me and said: “Hey Ali,” – (I didn’t correct her) – “I’m Ukrainian, and Jewish … ”
I waited nervously.
“ … and, umm, that, was my story.”
I was speechless.
After another screening, an elderly Iraqi was telling me it was his story, when his daughter smiled and said: “Don’t listen to Dad – you and I know the film is mystory.”
I hope my film will give you a different, more positive perspective of our lives. Better yet, it’s a comedy – the only reference to “Bombers” is about the AFL footy team. It’s a political film, without the politics – and I guarantee you’ll leave the cinema with a smile on your face.
Critics have compared Ali’s Wedding to iconic films like Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle – and for a Muslim Australian story to be included alongside this classic canon is extremely humbling. More importantly, it emphasises that the Muslim Australian story is just anAustralian story.
I know you are very busy, but I hope you accept this invitation. I’m confident that it will be worth your while and give you much needed, relaxing, entertaining down time.
I couldn’t speak or write a word back then and, 20 years later, here is a film which I co-wrote with the screenwriting legend Andrew Knight. It’s surreal, and it’s thanks to the opportunities this country has given me to thrive and pursue my passion.[“Source-theguardian”]