By Salaam Bhatti
Exclusive | The Crescent Post
October 25, 2011
Do not be alarmed by this article’s title. Neither has Sharia taken over America nor has Tom Cruise converted to Islam. Rather, “Newyorkustan,” a web series about Muslim-Americans in a post 9/11 New York, is slated for release in December 2011. Steven DeCastro, the man behind the project, took some time out of editing to have a chat with me. Understandably, a man named Steven creating a series about Muslims could be bad news for Muslims. However, he goes against all stereotypes for this project because, even as a non-Muslim, he wants to give voice to a Muslim perspective.
This dramatic series portrays a group of Muslims who band together to save their Queens mosque from being shut down. Tempers flare within the mosque as Muslim men struggle for positions of power and Muslim women seek equal space, all while non-Muslims try to keep both groups down. With a talented cast and crew, this SAG project is an official selection to the Manhattan International Film Festival. A sneak peak is available via the trailer on http://www.newyorkustan.com.
A tenant lawyer before giving up the practice of law to become a producer, Steven knew this was his calling due to what he feels is a limited range of stories on television. He felt that if he wanted to see more stories, he would have to create them himself, considering that Jersey Shore continues to be renewed season after season. Muslim and non-Muslim actors came together and donned hijabs, kufis, and other Islamic apparel to make mosque stories come to life.
These types of mosque stories and relationships typically do not reach the airwaves. For many viewers who have never met a Muslim, this will be a change from what they have seen in movies. Today, it is hard to believe that some people have never met a Muslim given the fact that interfaith outreach continues to peak in America. Yet, even though it has been a decade since 9/11, Steven believes that “it’s the right time to bring Muslim stories out in the mainstream because the public as a whole has resisted a failed hate and misinformation campaign against Islam and against Muslims, but [the campaign] left a big vacuum in its wake. People just don’t know. I bet that the non-Muslim public is thirsty for another perspective…from the Muslim side.”
Earlier this year, Katie Couric suggested that it might be time for a “Muslim Cosby Show” to personally bring Muslims into American living rooms (not literally). Islam has already been described as very compatible with America. An internet radio show, The Real Revolution, has a series of shows comparing the US Constitution to Islam. The result? So far, everything is very compatible. Steve echoes this sentiment. “[American Muslims] look a lot like us. What makes Newyorkustan unique is that we are not trying to confront people. We are trying to introduce [others] to some Muslims.” Evidently, Steven is making Katie Couric’s dream come true.
Salaam Bhatti is a law school graduate who is also involved in acting and stand-up comedy.