2023 HONOURABLE MENTION
Deeyah Khan | Norway / United States
In a small motel room, filmmaker Deeyah Khan sits across from Jeff Schoep, her camera rolling. He is the leader of America’s largest neo-Nazi organization. She is a Muslim woman who has faced racism and misogyny throughout her life, and yet she has initiated this meeting. He has agreed to speak to her, for one hour only. Khan and Schoep end up talking for five hours. At one point, she shows him a picture of herself as a six-year-old at an anti-extremist rally with her father in Norway. “People who represent what you represent made a six-year-old child feel hated,” she says. “How does that make you feel?” For a moment, Schoep does not speak. Finally, he says, “Uncomfortable.” Two years later, he left the movement, crediting Khan with changing his life and worldview.
This scene, from Khan’s 2017 film White Right: Meeting the Enemy, is one of many uncomfortable conversations Khan has sought out in her search for solutions to hate and extremism. For over a decade, she has been making documentary films that challenge stereotypes and foster understanding across some of the most extreme ideological, religious and racial divides. She has received numerous awards, including two Emmys and a BAFTA.
With the rise of misinformation and online conspiracy theories, many societies are experiencing polarization, fragmentation and rising populism that get reinforced by online echo chambers. Finding ways to reach across these divides and respectfully disagree while still being able to work together to resolve problems is critical. When this effort fails, pluralism breaks down in very violent ways.
Through seven documentary films and Fuuse, a production company she founded in 2010, Khan has examined many troubling threats to pluralism. She has facilitated dialogue with jihadists, members of armed militia groups, American domestic terrorists, white supremacists, anti-abortion activists, and perpetrators of intimate partner violence and even murderers. Along with her profound courage, her approach relies on listening with unflinching curiosity and empathy to locate the humanity behind the hateful rhetoric and to find common ground.
Against the backdrop of extremism and radicalization, Khan offers innovative solutions for living peacefully together. Her films have transformed countless people, from individuals like Jeff Schoep, to tens of millions of viewers around the world. By making an effort to hear and understand every voice, including those she disagrees with, Khan has shown the power of compassion and respectful dialogue in overcoming prejudice.