When anxiety increases in America, and when survival comes into question, where do we place our trust to affect positive change? Experience matters. Most of us have no real understanding of how to get the job done in Washington, so we want to elect a professional that can navigate the minefields and knock down the barriers preventing our happiness. A person cannot walk off the street and fight the good fight. You need training. You need money. You need time. So the usual suspects remain in power, and the politically content rule, same as it ever was.
Clearly, in 2016, voters were looking for fresh perspectives. Under the shadow of the Trump v Clinton grudge match, Ilhan Omar was a young, Muslim mother of three eager to meet the America her father championed as a child. Her fantasy of white picket fences extinguished by the reality of overcrowded tenement towers. She discovered that her dreams were not the only ones blocked by tightly wound incumbent officials. She heard the cries of her Somali friends as well as those of the hopeful student population contained within Minnesota’s District 60B and the liberals tired of waiting for progress to arrive. With action required, why shouldn’t she go get it done?
Time for Ilhan tracks that bold and utterly patriotic decision. Director Norah Shapiro dips into Omar’s congressional campaign, bears witness to the passion of the hopeful attached to her cause, and challenges the divide that splinters even the like-minded. In a realm where red usually falls to blue, Democratic in-fighting consistently threatens atrophy. Outside of her role as a community organizer and an enthusiastic, maybe naive belief that she could make a difference, Omar appeared ill-prepared to take on the sitting Phyllis Kahn. Ah, we all love a compelling underdog story.
Enter another fighter scrambling for a position: Mohamud Noor, a male Somali-American candidate who previously battled Kahn and lost. His very presence shakes Omar’s core base, catering to the long-held belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, not screaming on Capitol Hill. The debate moves from age vs. youth to man vs. woman.
While the film focuses the narrative on Omar’s side of the election, Shapiro convinces both Kahn and Noor to appear before the camera and never positions the opponents as villains. Their character defined by their words and the audience is left to make their judgments despite the filmmaker’s obvious appreciation for her subject. The pain sets in when you remember these three should be fighting alongside each other. Now envision a world where our parties channeled this energy against their true opposition.
Not knowing the ultimate outcome might make Time for Ilhan an excruciating experience. The cards were so stacked against her victory. Living in the moment with her and her family and her campaign team is as brutal as it is inspiring. Dismissive verbal missiles labeling her naive and dewey-eyed are one thing, but then dragging her marriage status into question and dumping charges of incest atop of that is something totally different and grotesquely abhorrent. Watching from a fly-on-the-wall station is indeed horrifying. Now imagine experiencing it in real time.
Do you dare to believe your opinion matters? Do you dare to believe that your point of view could aid the lawmakers of this country? If so, prepare your family and soul for a barrage of hateful rhetoric. The opportunity to observe Omar cast aside such accusations and continue her march to office is inspirational. Shapiro’s documentary acts as a bullhorn, howling a rallying cry for others to join the cause and fear inaction over defeat. Don’t question the experience. Question the will.