You may not have heard about this film; it premiered last year at the Arab American Film Festival in NYC. Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Big Night, Monk, etc.) spoke about AmericanEast on opening night. I wanted to go to see him, but didn’t reserve a ticket early enough. Tony acted and executive produced this movie.
The main character is an Egyptian immigrant/father of 2/small businessman named Mustafa (Sayeed Badreya: both a director and actor; recently seen in Iron Man). He owns and runs Habibi’s Cafe in the Little Arabia neighborhood in West Los Angeles. Mustafa prays on Fridays at the mosque and tries to keep the old cuture alive; he ALSO believes strongly in “The American Dream” and in cooperation between religions/races/etc. His future dream is to make “real Egyptian food” in a big upscale restaurant with his close friend Sam (Tony Shalhoub), a successful Jewish-American businessman.
Mustafa is honest, hard-working, and protective of his friends and family. He approaches life with a big smile. He isn’t comfortable with religious/political discussions at his little cafe. But since 9/11, life has become very difficult for his community…
Mustafa’s young friend Omar (Kais Nashif: a handsome Paul Rudd-type), a cabdriver/actor, keeps getting cast in terrorist roles. The degrading, stereotypical roles are “killing my soul,” Omar admits to his agent. Fikri- an Iraqi Christian (Erick Avari- a veteran of many films) and Murad (Anthony Azizi)- who favors hip-hop styles discuss Middle East conflicts at the cafe, somtimes too loudly. Sam, who is often harrassed by the angry Murad, tells Mustafa that “certain elements” will not be welcome at the new restaurant. “It’s not a social club,” Sam says, but this group of people care for and support each other.
Son (after stepping away from prayer): Who’s a good Muslim?
Mustafa: Muhammad Ali is a good Muslim!
Son (exasperated): He’s a black guy! Who’s like me?
Mustafa (slowly and softly): “I’m Egyptian… and… I’m a Muslim. Doesn’t your father count?”
On the family front, Mustafa’s pre-teen son feels conflicted about being Muslim. His younger sister Salwah- a nurse and beautician (Sarah Shahi) is not quite ready for arranged marriage to an older first cousin (fresh from Egypt). Tensions at home and in the wider world (w/ police, customers, etc.) slowly wear away at Mustafa.
If this sounds interesting to you, then check out AmericanEast. (There is even a cool animated sequence explaining the birth of Islam and the roots of the Middle East crisis.)