History was made in the 2016 U.S. elections when Ilhan Omar was elected as the first Somali-American Muslim legislator, taking a seat as a Minnesota State Representative. That she’s a woman and an immigrant is especially powerful given the current political climate. In Time for Ilhan, Director Norah Shapiro follows Omar from the beginning of her campaign to its celebratory conclusion.
Time for Ilhan intimately documents the journey of her political campaign, highlighting the unwavering dedication and devoted team necessary to stay afloat. Recognized as a leader in her community and eager to participate in the demographic opportunities of the US, Omar made the bold move to be a first in many categories of government legislator.
Knowing the outcome of her story didn’t detract from enjoying a front row seat to what it took to get there. The lush, funky soundtrack announces that Time for Ilhan isn’t going to be a dull, stodgy history lesson; these are people on the move. Ilhan radiates a serenity, confidence, kindness, and necessary good-humor that remains during even the ugliest moments of battle. Her story unfolds as the election progresses: her mother was a trailblazer in Somalia, dying from prolonged illness when Ilhan was a child. Her family spent years in a refugee camp and took an opportunity to move to America, choosing Minnesota because it’s known as a welcoming state for refugees. Omar runs against Phyllis Kahn, who has held the seat for over 40 years, and is seen by the rising immigrant population as out of touch with the changing needs of the community. Ilhan’s husband takes a leave of absence from work to care for their children, and a passionate, experienced political team rallies behind her, solidifying that this is her moment to own her capacity as a leader. Her historical journey redefines what a politician looks like on every level.
This was the best film I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. It goes beyond political parties to reinvigorate a love for what American politics can do at it’s very best. It’s an important film. It simply tells the story of a woman with a dream who took it all the way to a House Seat with a clean, inspiring campaign. Time for Ilhan is a documentary not to be missed.
Ivy Lofberg is a Film Journalist in New York City. She has written for Sordid Cinema, Film Inquiry and PopOptiq
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