Protests break out in Minneapolis over HBO production
With yet another Hollywood tale about Somalis in the works, a young generation of activists in Minnesota asks: Why must it be about terrorism? And this time, they're directing their anger at one of their own.
Rapper and singer K'naan faced a hostile reception from dozens of Somali-American protesters on Saturday at a block party in Minneapolis. He had just begun performing on a stage on Cedar Avenue, the beating pulse of the East African community, when demonstrators essentially shut him down.
The source of their hurt is K'naan's latest project, an HBO series that several media reports have described as a drama about jihadi recruitment set in Minnesota, which also involves director Kathryn Bigelow.
"Him being a Somali, I would expect more of him," said Filsan Ibrahim, 27, one of the organizers of the protest. "He has such a big platform. He could use his name and celebrity to change that narrative and say, 'There's more to us.'"
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On Saturday, Ibrahim donned a purple scarf and grabbed a bullhorn to describe to the crowd what she anticipated from the cable TV show. "It's going to be talking about how the Somali kids in Cedar are terrorists!" she cried.
Someone next to her held up a sign that read, "Stop exploiting the Somali community."
K'naan left the stage before making a comment about "ignorant" people.
On Twitter, some pressed him to be more transparent about the project.
"There's only so much one could talk about, when the work is yet to be made," he responded.
K'naan is teaming up with Bigelow, director of "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hurt Locker." At one point, the working title of the series was reportedly "The Recruiters."
Other Somali-Americans are willing to give K'naan a chance.
Best known for his hit "Wavin' Flag," which became an anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Somali-Canadian musician has talked about his childhood in Somalia and the country's civil war and helped elevate the story of Somali struggle and resilience to a world stage. And some applaud the artist for engaging with his critics on social media after the protest.
Abdi Mohamed, a 22-year-old from St. Paul, came to document the performance and demonstration. After Mohamed sent K'naan a video link to the chaos that ensued — including tense skirmishes between police and demonstrators — the musician replied in a series of direct messages on Twitter.
"K'naan told me he wanted to show the more humane side of Somalis," Mohamed said. "He said these narratives are already out there — people are already trying to push a blanket image of Somalis, a one-dimensional image."
The artist assured Mohamed he wanted to depict the community "as they are — as mothers, fathers, as students."
On the other hand, Mohamed said, Somali-Americans are simply exhausted of seeing themselves on screen.
"Whether it's 'Zero Dark Thirty' or 'Captain Phillips,' there's always this kind of imagery as Somalis and Muslims being the bad guy in a Hollywood blockbuster," he said.
K'naan did not respond to a request seeking comment for this story.
On Saturday, a number of Minneapolis police were working off-duty to secure the event. Ibrahim, the activist, said some officers began pushing the demonstrators.
Mohamed said he observed some individuals in the crowd throw items at police, including a football and what looked to be a glass bottle. Officers sprayed a chemical irritant, sending people to flush their eyes with containers of milk.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Catherine Michal said some also hurled rocks and a chair at officers. A Metro Transit police officer was hit in the head with an unknown object and was treated and released at a nearby hospital before finishing his shift, said the agency's spokesman Drew Kerr.
By the end of the day, Minneapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy and a 27-year-old woman on suspicion of riot. As of late Monday, which was the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the woman was being held at the Hennepin County jail. She could face gross misdemeanor charges on Tuesday.
After seeing the video of the commotion and arrests, K'naan, took to Twitter.