Updated: Jun 19, 2021
(Photo courtesy of Disney)
For many American Muslim kids, Eid is a day of celebration we steal off from school (if we’re lucky), after a month of being asked “Not even water?” or our friends awkwardly apologizing for eating in front of us. We have carved out our celebrations and our spaces of worship despite the many obstacles of adjusting to life here in the U.S. This year, we finally came together again after a year of living in isolation, and it was a joyous day of community and celebration. In American Eid, a film directed by Aqsa Altaf, one of six films in Disney’s Launchpad Collection, the struggle to observe our traditions in a new home is explored through the perspective of Ameena, a Pakistani-American girl who is celebrating her first Eid in the U.S. Or at least trying to, since she is forced to go to school on her favorite holiday. The Launchpad Collection is a new Disney initiative to spotlight underrepresented filmmakers. The six films, now streaming on Disney+, all focus on the theme of “Discover”.
The film begins with the new moon, signaling that it is indeed the beginning of Eid. The azaan (the call to prayer) can be heard in the background. The camera pans over a poster of none other than Ms. Marvel, another Pakistani-American Muslim and on to pictures of Ameena and her sister Zainab. Ameena wakes up with a great deal of excitement and anticipation for what she thinks will be a day of dressing up, good food, and gathering with family. She even builds a tent for her and her sister to “fly to Pakistan” and share their Eid gifts. But the reality is quite different, as her parents want her to still go to school. Her father explains, “Beta, we are new here. We have to be the best.”
So Ameena goes to school, rather disappointed, but she sees hope in starting a petition to get days off for her and her sister, inspired by a lesson in class where her teacher asks, “How will you use your superpower today?”
Ameena walks around the school, gathering signatures, and explaining what Eid is along the way. She gets a signature from a janitor and has to explain that there is not, in fact, such a thing as an “Eid tree”. She even gets signatures from the friends her sister wants to fit in with so badly, and explains that Zainab, who goes by “Z” fasted almost every day. But Zainab wants, more than anything, to not be different and so she crumbles up Ameena’s list of signatures.
While Ameena is all about optimism and sincerity, her sister Zainab is more concerned about fitting in with her new friends. The center of the film is the relationship between the sisters, who represent two different immigrant experiences, one proudly living her traditions and heritage and the other shrinking it down to whatever is palatable to everyone else.
Ameena was looking forward to celebrating at home after a bad day at school, but then her father gets stuck in traffic and the night ends in rainy sorrow for Ameena. But the next day, as she and Zainab approach the entrance to their school, they hear faint strains of music, and when they get to Ameena’s classroom, there are her parents and all kinds of decorations. Ameena gets to explain Eid to her class and celebrate with them too. Her parents brought Eid to school, and the film ends with a hopeful and joyous scene of Zainab and Ameena dancing together and eventually building back their tent and their relationship.
The most radical part of this film was how normal Ameena and her family were. They switched between Urdu and English throughout the film, called home on Eid, and mostly just lived like a normal family would in a normal looking house.
I spent most of the film bracing for something bad without even realizing it. I am so used to seeing Muslims struggling with their identity and being confronted by people who call them “terrorist”, but there was none of that here. When the happy ending came, I broke out in a wide grin, and my sisters cheered loudly too. But my sisters shared a different opinion of the sisters in the film. My sisters asked, “Why is Zainab being so mean?” and I remembered being acutely aware of never wanting to be different. I was never quite as bitter as Zainab, but I was never as confident and comfortable as Ameena. My sisters are growing up in a time where they regularly discuss Ramadan with their friends, and proudly proclaim that they fasted on the weekends or managed to make it to sunset without any food or water. I was never ashamed of my heritage but I never marked myself as different with pride either.
I have made the same journey that Zainab did, of acceptance and pride and sharing my culture, but I am so happy that my sisters start from far beyond where I was. I embraced it, and am writing these words in my fullest voice, as an American, as a Muslim, as an Indian. Every part of me goes into my writing, and I am so glad I stopped hiding.
It is only a 20-minute short film, but so necessary in a time where we still struggle to even be present on screen. When we do happen to be on screen, it is the stereotypical terrorist or woman "struggling" against the traditions of Islam. These stereotypes contribute directly to how people in general perceive us. With the horrific killing of three generations of a Muslim family in Canada, and the rampant Islamophobia online, these stereotypes only serve to other Muslims in places where they are already the minority. “American Eid” serves to counter these stereotypes in a progressive but deceptively simple way, through spotlighting a story familiar to many Muslim immigrants but also explaining Eid to non-Muslims as just another holiday, deserving of a day off too.
I am so glad my sisters and other children now get to see normal people like them on screen, without the stereotypes I got so used to seeing. “American Eid” is a necessary and inspiring film, and its optimistic message encourages us all to be proud of who we are and where we come from.