LOVE CONQUERS ALL
Dear Shahroz (@TheRealShahroz),
Thanks for sharing your concerns about SUREFIRE. I deeply appreciate your feedback.
I love when people bring conversations to the table that challenge my decisions as an artist and force me to question things from a new perspective. That is also why I love the collaborative elements of audiovisual storytelling so much. It is a medium that allows a small creative community to come together to pour everything they’ve got into their work. It affords us an opportunity to unite around a specific cause and achieve tangible results. And of course… if it’s done at the highest level… those results can be life-changing for the creators and audience alike.
So, thank you once again for being so open and honest about the issues you have raised. There have been a number of Muslim brothers and sisters that have had some concerns with some aspects of the SUREFIRE video. After a bit of prayer and reflection… these are the words that I have been inspired to share. They are a bit rushed… but I’ve tried my best to tap into the bottom of my heart with each and every word.
We had no intentions to disrespect anyone within the Muslim community or otherwise with SUREFIRE.
We also had no intentions to profit from those who practice Islam.
We put a tremendous of thought and care into the choices that were made with the narrative for SUREFIRE. Whether it was issues relating to undocumented immigrants, Latino culture, Islam, Muslim culture, interracial dating, premarital intimacy, wearing hijabs, etc., I spent a lot of time getting feedback and notes from people of all backgrounds, including practicing Muslims, about the material. Several of our actors were raised following Muslim traditions as well.
Each of us are individuals who practice our religious and spiritual beliefs entirely differently from one another. That includes those who might even ascribe to the same faith and pray to the same God. I believe this is a good thing. Everyone should have an individual relationship with God that is unlike anyone else’s. I believe that sacred space is the place where the closest connection to the Divine can be found. Unfortunately, that individuality also means that there will always be someone who may object to the manner in which we profess our faith. No matter what actions we take… there will always be unwanted misunderstandings due to misperceived intentions and/or imperfect communication. That’s not just part of being an artist… that’s a part of life.
I am proud to say that I’ve never seen so many people express such optimism about a project I have created as they have about SUREFIRE. In fact, during the casting process, numerous Muslim actresses, most of whom were complete strangers, took time to offer words of encouragement and support for our project. Each of them were extraordinarily thankful for our sincere efforts to portray Muslim women in a positive and holistic light.
The theme of our video is that “LOVE IS SUREFIRE,” and that “LOVE CONQUERS ALL.” We believe that this message is true regardless of the categorizations (cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual, etc.) that might be reflected by our individual circumstances.
It is not always easy to be SUREFIRE in one’s love. Whether it is love towards oneself… love towards others… or love towards God. We are surrounded by incredible amounts of fear, pain, and chaos. Those influences often pull us far away from the SUREFIRE place in which we are supposed to exist.
The good news is that no matter the obstacles we face… we always have a choice.
We can choose to love.
We can choose not to succumb to fear.
We can choose to overcome pain.
But in order for our love to become SUREFIRE…
We must unify…
We must become one.
We are not trying to pass any judgment on anyone’s spiritual practices and/or beliefs. Our goals are the exact opposite. We are supporting human rights, religious acceptance, and the power of love.
We could certainly question the decision to portray a Muslim woman without a hijab. We could also question portraying a Muslim woman dating a non-Muslim male. We could question portraying a Muslim woman defying the commands of her father… or showing affection in public… or kissing a boy before marriage... or engaging in interracial dating… or whatever else could potentially certain audience members.
Every Muslim man and every Muslim woman will have a different opinion about the role of the hijab or the acceptability of certain expressions of intimacy in their culture. Whatever those opinions might be… I pray that there is one thing that we can agree on:
Whether or not a Muslim woman is wearing a hijab in any given moment… whether or not a Muslim woman chooses to be physically intimate with her partner... she is still a godly Muslim woman who should be fully respected and fully admired as such.
It’s important to remember that the lead characters, Jamila and Roberto, move and act according to their emotional state and in response to the obstacles around them. They are not acting out of any sort of religious commentary or propagandist agenda. The only agenda that we have here is our belief that love is SURFIRE and that love conquers all.
Jamila is a great woman. Jamila is a fantastic person. Jamila is a wonderful Muslim.
We show her praying multiple times throughout the film. Alone and with others.
She performs Salah… facing the Qibla… next to the biggest ocean in the world.
She may not be perfect… but I hope these moments are enough to demonstrate the steadfastness of her faith and her devotion to Allah.
Sometimes we must remind ourselves to not become trapped by the given circumstances that are a part of our lives.
We do not choose our birthplace.
We do not choose our skin tone.
We do not choose the religious beliefs of our ancestors.
Jamila did not choose those things either.
She did not choose to have her spirituality affronted in the way that it was.
She did not expect to fall in love with a non-Muslim male.
But it happened.
So what do we do next?
We stand with her. We recognize her vulnerability. We support her.
When we watch a film as artists and as viewers, our primary instinct is to connect with the humanity of the characters. If we value their humanity more highly at the end of the story than at the beginning of the story… we all grow together. We’ve attempted a very ambitious endeavor with SUREFIRE and I feel that we’ve fully succeeded in that effort. I believe that we’ve succeeded because our characters are represented as fully realized human beings.
That is always a victory.
The entirety of Jamila’s journey is a wonderful and beautiful spectacle. She is empowered as a woman and as a Muslim. She has nothing to be ashamed of. Even as her loyalty to her God is literally ripped off of her head. Even as her father attempts to vanquish her opportunity to experience true love. Although she suffers greatly in those moments… she still finds a way to summon her divinity, her power, and her worth.
Thankfully… once her faith in herself is fully restored… there’s absolutely nothing that holds her back.
Our collective journey to create John Legend’s latest video has been SUREFIRE from start to finish.
It has been full of love. It has been full of hope.
Now that it has been released to the world, I will continue to pray that there will be more people that stand with our efforts than against them.
Let us continue to have faith in each other.
Let us continue to have faith in our global community.
Let us continue to allow Allah to be our guide.
Love and light,
Cole Wiley (@wolfwiles)