University of Connecticut graduate, Maneetpaul Singh, hosted a screening of his short documentary film “They Called Me Osama,” followed by a Q&A session last night on campus.
Singh graduated from UConn in 2015 with a dual degree in business administration and digital media and design. He received funding for the film through UConn’s IDEA grant program.
Singh drew much of the inspiration for this film from his religion, Sikhism–a monotheistic religion based centrally around the pursuance of love.
People of this faith aim to incorporate the most enlightened form of every worldwide religion, believing that in their truest form, all religion breaks down to a common concept. This concept, Singh informed the audience, is love.
“Every faith has truth behind it,” said Singh of Sikhism. A large focus of the pursuance of this truth is guided by the Guru Nanak and his teachings.
“Guru Nanak travelled throughout Asia and the Middle East, teaching and spreading Sikhism, but also learning about other religions,” he said.
Singh takes a similar approach with his documentary. “I have a lot of friends that ask me, why do I look the way that I look?” he said. “I wanted to make sure it was something everyone could watch.”
Singh stresses throughout the documentary, and more bluntly in his discussion after, that he aims to inform, as well as normalize, the image of Sikhism.
During the Q&A, Singh reflected on some of the difficulties he has encountered with misconceptions of Sikhism. “I think the biggest thing is our appearance–our beards, our turbans–usually when people see these things, they attribute them negatively,” Singh said.
This misconception is at the heart of Singh’s film. The documentary consists largely of encounters on the streets of New York City, where Jagraj Singh–a YouTuber and speaker on the matters of Sikhism–guides discussions about the religion. Many passing by were bewildered and fell relatively silent as Jagraj detailed the basics of the religion.
This was paired with a testimony from a few different Sikh followers, who detailed their experiences with different forms of discrimination against their religion. Some faced physical violence, either in everyday life or school, while others became the center of a viral sensation, just due to their appearance. Although these people were emotionally and even physically battered, Singh was able to capture their wisdom and courage in prevailing through these situations.
It seems the film has already had an effect in the direction Singh was aiming for. “This film, I’ve been told, has been used as a resource for some teachers and classrooms already,” he said when asked about how professionals should deal with the cultural complications the Sikhs have encountered.
“Seeing how people really turned out for the event was amazing,” said Seeya Sodani, a third semester finance major. She added that it was “great to see people of all ethnicities coming out, because this is a crucial cause.”
Others had similar things to say such as Stephen Hawes, a seventh semester mechanical engineering major. “I didn’t realize how little I knew,” remarked Hawes, but complemented the film on how it was “so beautifully produced, it really had the vibe of a professional documentary.”
Christopher Mueller is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.