In America, racism is hardly a thing of the past. One need only look as far as Seema Jilani's account of her appalling experience at the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner, to find evidence of this. Despite the fact that an African American president was entertaining guests a few feet away from where she stood, Jinani, who is of Pakistani descent, was treated in an absolutely degrading manner solely on the basis of her ethnic background.
"We think racism is gone now that we have a black president, but things are actually worse than before. People just don't talk about it anymore."
These are the words of Ibrahim Ashmawey, co-producer and co-writer of Boiling Pot, an upcoming film based on true events that aims to expose the reality of racism in America. Ashmawey, along with his co-writer brother, Omar Ashmawey, was motivated to make the film after hearing about a noose being hung at the University of California San Diego campus in 2008 (a copycat crime that spread to university campuses across the nation) as well as a 2010 lynching in Mississippi.
Omar Ashmawey, who also directed the movie, said he contacted a student at the Black Student Union at UC Irvine for more information on the events and received a thirteen page email in response.
"There was much more where that came from," Omar said. "It was as if they were looking for a venue to let it out. With all the text messages, emails, and frat parties such as the "Compton Cookouts" mocking black culture, you'd be amazed what is going on right now in present day."
"This was while Obama was running for office," Ibrahim added. "It's so degrading that you couldn't possibly make it up."
Their research formulated into a script which eventually became Boiling Pot, a film that tells the story of modern day racism through different characters who hail from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. The Ashmawey brothers said they wanted to encourage viewers to learn about themselves through the film.
"There is no antagonist or protagonist in the story of racism," Omar said. "Every character sees themselves as the protagonist in their own story, but we wanted to show that we are all in the wrong. Some of the smaller stories in the film don't have resolutions because we want people to come to their own conclusions. You learn about yourself through the conclusion you reach."
The script attracted award-winning talent such as Danielle Fishel (Boy Meets World), Davetta Sherwood (The Young and the Restless), John Heard (The Great Debaters), and Lou Gossett, Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) to play the various characters in the film. Each brought their unique background and experiences to the set.
"I actually received a Compton Cookout email while I was in college," Sherwood, who plays an African American college student in the movie, said. "It was filled with stereotypes and told people to come drink a purple drink and make their hair nappy."
Sherwood, who refers to herself as an "actor-vist" said she personally experienced racism in the past.
"I'm a black woman, and I experienced it during grade school and even sometimes in my career. I was shooting a film once and was called a 'nigger' by a passer byer. It hurt my feelings as opposed to making me mad and it does bother me."
She hopes that the film touches viewers and makes them want to change.
"I hope people pay attention," she said. "I hope this changes people's mindsets and the way they think. If they aren't getting to the core of the issue, then you'll always have an issue."
Sherwood's experiences are different from that of actress Danielle Fishel, whose character is described as "an average white girl who denies racism exists."
"I can't say I've experienced racism personally, but I know it exists. I see how people don't realize they are being racist. People will be able to relate to my character who is thrown for a loop when she brings a fiancé of a different race home and her dad acts in a way she doesn't expect."
The actress also has high expectations for Boiling Pot.
"I hope that people will open their eyes and take themselves out of their own bubble and recognize what's going on," Fishel said. "If you witness something that is racist or shouldn't be happening, not speaking up makes you just as accountable as someone who is committing the act. Don't say 'this doesn't involve me, so don't get involved.'"
More work needs to be done to combat racism on college campuses and beyond, according to Omar Ashmawey.
"This is a problem that we're dealing on a societal level; It's not just a campus problem. We only see it on campus because everyone is loud and exaggerated there," he said. "The fact that the phrase "race card" is still something in politics and that it took 200 years to get an African American in the White House shows we're far behind. We must address this issue instead of thinking this is an issue of the past."
For the sake of all those who have been affected by racism in this country, let's hope that Boiling Pot will accomplish just that.