With support from California Humanities, Bay Area-based filmmaker David Washburn has launched Loyalty: Stories, an ambitious multimedia project aiming to dispel negative stereotyping and misconceptions about American Muslims and explore the complex subject of loyalty. Short video documentaries (with more in the works) provide a window into the hearts and minds of some of the men and women of the Islamic faith who have put their lives on the line for our country. By recording these stories, the project aims to provide a touchstone for meaningful dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, service members and civilians, veterans and non-veterans, that inspires viewers to look beyond perceived differences and focus on core values, like freedom of religion, service, and equal opportunity, that unite people in California and across the US more broadly.
The project has already attracted wide attention. The Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national nonprofit organization working to promote and strengthen American pluralism by increasing understanding and improving policies that impact American Muslims, awarded Washburn a ChangeMaker award in 2018, which paved the way for an invitation to share the films at a panel discussion at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019. The Washington Post, NBC News, and Upworthy have all partnered to share the project’s films online. So far, over 200,000 people have viewed the films, and hundreds more have seen them at community screening and discussion events across the country. Feedback from audiences shows that the project has been successful in reaching its original goals of combatting stereotyping about Muslims and veterans. Following a screening at an Islamic Center an American Muslim woman approached Washburn and said, “I had never met a veteran until tonight. Thank you for doing this.”
A Community Stories grant award in 2015 supported the initial interviews with a diverse (by age, gender, ethnicity, and geographic location) group of California Muslim veterans, which enabled Washburn to obtain additional support from the Doris Duke Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, Massachusetts Humanities, and other funders.