NJ Filmmaker Brings Arab-American History to the Big Screen

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Seven years ago, Abe Kasbo wasn’t a filmmaker. But, when he reached out to subjects around the country to share their stories for a documentary he was working on, they were happy to oblige. “A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans” was a film many people wanted to see happen.

“You have some big names in the film: Jamie Farr, Ralph Nader. What did they think about you creating the documentary?” I asked.

“Well, as somebody who’s never made a film before, I was kind of nervous to approach these folks — people like Ralph Nader, Jaime Farr, Sen. Mitchell,” answered Kasbo. “But, I think that when I did and I explained the mission of the film, they said come right in.”

Like Kasbo, his interview subjects thought the time was right for a film educating viewers on everything from Middle East geography, and the diverse ethnic and religious groups in the region, to the Arab-American immigrant experience, and the many contributions Arab-Americans have made here in the U.S.

Kasbo says misconceptions have most recently been stoked by the media and political posturing.

“So, the time to take control of that story and create at least a baseline of knowledge is now,” said Kasbo.

For many viewers, the stories recalled in Kasbo’s documentary will feel very familiar.

“The Arab-American immigrant story is the Italian-American immigrant story, it’s the Irish-American immigrant story, it’s the Jewish-American immigrant story, it’s the Mexican-American immigrant story,” said Kasbo. “It is the American story.”

The film also addresses one of the most challenging chapters in that story line: Sept. 11, and the aftermath that dogged the Arab-American and perceived Arab-American population. Kasbo and the documentary both remind that the perpetrators were not Arab-Americans.

“Because of the subject matter, have you run into any challenges with putting the documentary out there?” I ask.

“Well, there’s a lot of information on the documentary on the web, so I get some of these very interesting emails about why I’m making the documentary and that sort of thing,” said Kasbo. “But, I will say this: that it completely reinforces the need for this type of film.”

It’s not the trolls online, but those with a major platform that have Kasbo really concerned.

In November of last year, Donald Trump created controversy when he said, “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

“We need to be careful because people can actually get hurt here,” said Kasbo. “We are a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and that is our strength. … We don’t have Mr. Trump’s platform, but what we do have is the ability to get out and combat that through the way we behave in the community, through community service, through a documentary like we’re making right now.”

Kasbo will host a Q&A at Seton Hall University after a screening of “A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans” on Sunday.