If one were to look at the profile of Karl Marx – who lived in the 19th century -- one finds that he is a philosopher, historian, sociologist, journalist and political theorist. All rolled into one. But beyond these, he may have well been a futurist, maybe an astrologer, who could predict with amazing accuracy.
He said that religion was the opium of the masses. Did he say that it would remain the opium of the masses two centuries later? I would not know. But religion today is as addictive as it was that confuses people so much that they develop all warped-up ideas. What is more, each religion begins to feel it is superior to the other!
Nicole Ballivian's short film of just over ten-minutes, Joe & The Shawl, underlines this concept with all the seriousness and sincerity the subject deserves, but is laced with delightful humour. The short opens with Kelli (Jill Galbraith), a young North Carolinian woman, finding her car stalling on a highway. Lucky for her, an adorable tow-truck driver, Joe ( Travis Lincoln Cox), stops by and offers help. Kelli is relieved, and as they wait for him to find out whether her car battery is dead, he tries first flirting with her (in all good humour though) and then regaling her with a joke about how an Oxfordian walks into a bar where two Texans are drinking, and how these two men pull the Englishman's legs.
Once, Joe traces the fault and changes Kelli's car battery, he is surprised to see her picture on her ID. What is it you are wearing, he asks her pointing to her hijab/ head-scarf in the photograph. Is it a shawl?
Ballivian, who wrote the screenplay from a true story by Deonna Kelli Sayed, draws us into a climax that is both hilarious and disturbing – telling us in no uncertain terms how ill-informed people are even about their own religion.
Part of the just concluded VoxFeminae Festival (online now), Joe & The Shawl in the final analyses talks about, according to Ballivian how “A white American Muslim woman is never 'suspected' of being Muslim unless she wears the hijab. Unlike Muslim people of colour, white 'unidentified' Muslims can blend in with those who have outright,but more often hidden Islamophobia. These Muslims are the ones who can witness the conversations without filters...I’ve seen the world from both sides of the shawl myself, and these spoken beliefs are often so ill-informed, racist and insane, you have to laugh”
Precisely so. Look at the way, Joe – all full of confidence, bravado and vanity ( “I am Texan, and would want to get there before it secedes from the US..Texas has a lot of oil reserves. It has its own defence...”) -- shudders and shivers, and runs away all because Kelli's mobile phone number has 666! “Yes, I am Satanic”, she taunts him, and I have left something in your tow-van”.
She laughs as Joe scoots! And I laughed too at how foolish and irrational and illogical people have come to be in today's so called scientific world. Man may have gone to the Moon, and he is exploring Mars. He has conquered many diseases (he soon will the current virus), but is such an 'illiterate' when it comes to understanding his own religion – let lone others'. In the process, he has thrown away such endearing qualities like inclusiveness and humanness.
Joe & The Shawl batters you with this message, but Ballivian does it with such simplicity and through such a taut screenplay that her work sits lightly on us. Indeed,a pleasure to watch!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
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