To begin with, we were just making a silly video - a little cheeky, maybe even a little political - but mainly, we thought it would be funny to dress our friend up in a sheep costume.
Jenny Slate and Studio 360 recently announced their "It's A Wonderful Short" competition. Their invitation: create a short film, 30 seconds or less, with "a holiday theme."
Which is how we found ourselves standing in front of my Brooklyn apartment building early one Saturday morning - the morning after the Paris attacks - with various assembled friends: one in the aforementioned sheep costume, a mostly goofy nun, an even goofier innkeeper, and, critically as it turned out, a lovely blonde dressed as the Virgin Mary.
Two hours and 58 minutes of the three-hour shoot were the sort of punchy fun that ensues in such a gathering, but there were two minutes that I couldn't quite let go of; that I couldn't stop rubbing at in the ensuing hours.
So, naturally, I posted about it on Facebook.
This morning - the morning after the Paris attacks - we are shooting a film outside my apartment building in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.
It is a spoofy, silly, (hopefully) funny film in the style of Buster Keaton, featuring a lead actress dressed as the Virgin Mary. Her costume is spectacular - a spot-on flowy, full-length affair - straight out of Christian iconography.
We are framing up a shot when an old man - one of the many Orthodox Jews that are our neighbors - comes storming down the sidewalk towards us. His eyes are full of the sort of seething belligerence that immediately warns me he is angling for a fight. I assume he is coming to demand to see our filming permit, which we have not bothered to obtain.
Instead, he heads straight for our main actress, thrusting his hands in her face as though they have been shackled together, "Is this what it means to be Muslim?" he demands of her. She turns to look at him, nonplussed, only making him angrier. He shakes his "shackled" hands again in her face, "This is what you to do to yourself to be a Muslim."
Realizing where this is headed, I jump in - "No, no. She is not a Muslim - we are shooting a film. Only a film. It's just a costume."
He backs off.
This Jewish man punishing an actress dressed as the Virgin Mary for being a Muslim because of a terrorist attack on the other side of the world.
With what staggering alacrity our sorrow turns to rage; our fear into bigotry.
As we are grieving for those in Paris, let us also remember that, once again, it must be a difficult day to be a Muslim in America.
If you were on social media at all in the days after those attacks, you can probably imagine the vitriol and anger into which the comment chain on my post quickly devolved. Friends that I love and respect blew me away by hotly entreating me to "Wake Up!", insisting that all Muslims are implicitly culpable for the actions of the few. Other friends jumped in with equal venom against them. Articles, citations, and documentaries were furiously posted - importantly proving each side right.
Alarmed, I did what you should never do - especially when you are alone in your apartment after 10pm - and dove into the fray, certain that if I just wrote enough words, I could elucidate my obviously correct perspective; certain that I could type us all out of the logically unsustainable assertion that any given American Muslim should be held responsible for ISIS' unspeakable crimes.
When I woke up the next morning and one of the newest comments included the contention that I was an anti-Semite, I folded and took the post down amidst a two hour fit of unstoppable tears and my husband's kind reassurances that everyone sticks their foot in it on the internet once in awhile.
Which might have been the end of it, save for the film we had made, except...except there is a tangle of sickness that formed in my stomach that night that I haven't been able to rid myself of since.
I have been overwhelmed with a hopelessness at the roiling pain and fear; the hatred it so quickly becomes; and, most dismaying of all, my total inability to convince a single person, no matter how many words I wrote, that that hatred might be misguided.
I have been burning with shame that I took the post down; with shame that in that very first moment I felt it necessary to tell the man that our actress was not a Muslim, when I should have just told him to fuck off.
For the last two weeks, with little reprieve, this sickness has dogged me. Because I am a filmmaker, I have wanted to make something, but, my words, being so recently proven ineffective, now hang limp and I am unsure what to create to make any of this better.
Except that, ironically, if that original film we were making had any message at all - beyond making ourselves laugh - it was that, really, we are all very much the same. And that if you move anyone, even the Virgin Mary, forward a couple millennia, she would do the same thing that any young woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant would do today.
So, in the end, maybe I've already made the point that I've latterly needed so badly to express.
The Virgin Mary sure could have used Planned Parenthood.
And, also, there is a woman dressed as a sheep.