OBERLIN — One of the worst feelings is that of being disconnected, a minority, the “other.” Not just alone, but knowing that a fundamental part of you, for what ever reason, doesn’t belong.
Community members and Oberlin College students got to see how 12 people felt like that in a unique documentary screening at the Apollo Theatre on East College Street, in partnership with Oberlin College.
The documentary, “Me, the ‘Other’” focuses on that feeling of disconnection in different ways through stories of 12 students living in Washtenaw County in southeast Michigan. The screening was followed by a panel including the partial cast and director/co-producer, Shidan Majidi. The event was part of Oberlin College’s eighth annual Friendship Festival by the Oberlin Friendship Circle. Friendship Circle is an organization promoting friendship as a radical foundation for social change.
Ellie Tiley, a junior biology major at Oberlin, organized the viewing after seeing the world premiere of the film in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She contacted Majidi to organize a screening because of the way the film exhibited the idea of friendship through understanding between so many people who felt like outcasts. Tiley also made sure members of the cast were available after the screening like they were at the premiere, which left a longer-lasting impression on her.
“I feel that anyone who can sit down and talk with someone else can become friends,” she said. “Understanding our backgrounds and what we need from each other is just really important. All these people who have been an ‘other’ don’t have to be an ‘other’ if we understand where we’re coming from.”
Majidi said he was happy to organize the sixth screening since its world premiere, agreeing with the sentiment of Tiley’s organization.
The director said he had the idea for the documentary after a missed opportunity to create a musical production celebrating diversity due to time constraints. From there, the idea still stuck with him until he created his documentary.
Christina, a 64-year-old transgender woman who transitioned in 2010, struggled with her gender identity for decades. Unfortunately, her coming out led to losing her 31-year job of running a division of a construction company. So she decided to go back to school at Eastern Michigan University. For her, being the “other” stretched far beyond not fitting in society.
“I grew up believing I wasn’t supposed to be who I was, and I was basically told I was supposed to be someone I didn’t feel like,” she said. “So I was sort of like the ‘other’ to myself even more than I felt like the ‘other’ to other people.”
Javier is a senior at University of Michigan who is one of the “Dreamers,” or children brought into America across the Mexico border undocumented by their parents. Javier’s story is one of the most topical as the news about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and its uncertain future under the Trump administration surface daily. For the most part, Javier said he hasn’t felt alienated until recently by the DACA debate.
“I am very much well-assimilated to this country, so I don’t feel like the ‘other’ until it is very blatantly pointed out to me that I am very much not welcomed here,” he said.
Unlike Javier, Celia, a senior majoring in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan, finds otherness a familiar feeling. At the age of 12, she left her home in the African nation of Cameroon after her parents died and spent the rest of her life living with different family members in France and the United States.
“Pretty much all circumstances, from being a foreigner to being in a family, to education, my ‘otherness’ encompasses all those aspects,” she said.
The film is not yet available for purchase or download, but Majidi said he is working on making it more accessible. In order to create a world where people can connect more, Majidi said more people should see this film for the same mission of the Oberlin Friendship Circle.
“By listening to these people they might know about or have prejudice towards, they can understand and feel and see that they’re fellow human beings,” he said. “These are our friends, these are our family members and we are all connected.”