Mpls. residents shoot down HBO's request to film controversial show

HBO meeting
Cedars resident Abdi Mohammed speaks against allowing HBO to do three days of filming for the controversial show "Mogadishu, Minnesota." HBO producer Jonathon Filley and translator Miriam Hussein listen.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

A resident group in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis has unanimously rejected a request from HBO to allow three days of filming for the controversial show "Mogadishu, Minnesota."

The vote came Wednesday night after a confrontational hearing with residents where HBO representatives argued their show will be a family drama presenting Somali-American life.

The meeting was arranged by the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council (MHRC), an independent nonprofit that represents residents of public housing high-rise buildings.

It came after the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which owns the Cedars building on South Sixth Street, agreed to the filming — on condition that residents approve, and that locations fees benefit the residents. HBO had hoped to begin filming next week.

This does not mean the end of "Mogadishu, Minnesota," though. The three days of filming was to be external shots of the building, and shooting will continue at about a dozen other locations around the metro.

In response to the vote, the producers of the HBO pilot issued a statement: "We always want to work in concert with the community. We will respect the wishes of the Cedars' tenants and we will not be filming there."

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At Wednesday's meeting, elderly residents complained about the potential disruption of filming, and younger people said the show will stereotype Minnesota Somalis as extremists.

Student Burhan Mohamud argued the show will not be the family drama HBO claims.

"And anybody who knows HBO, no one is watching that to talk about a Somali family. They don't care about that," he said. "They care about what is happening in Minneapolis. They care about all these headlines."

HBO representative Miriam Hussein read a statement at the meeting from the project's writer and director, the Somali-Canadian musician K'naan.

"When national and international discourse is driven by a perceived Islamic threat, 'Mogadishu, Minnesota' intends to look behind the generalizations and assumptions to reveal the truth about what daily life is like for Muslim Americans across a range of religiosities," Hussein read.

The project is backed by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. The pilot episode is expected to cost $5.5 million, the bulk of which will be spent in the city.

If the pilot leads to 10-episode series, each show will cost about $5 million.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed the organization of the community meeting. The current version is correct.