During the last year of the Obama administration, a community organizer felt her Minnesota district was calling for a new voice in the statehouse. In 2015, Ilhan Omar was just a newcomer to politics and facing an incumbent with 40 years of experience. She was dissatisfied with the current representation and wanted to address the needs of her Somali community and those of young people.
Two months into her campaign for state representative, she met director Norah Shapiro. Omar’s story immediately intrigued her and she began filming Omar’s historic run for office.
On Nov. 8, 2016, Omar won, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the country.
And with that, “Time for Ilhan” was born.
On top of the many initiatives she’s currently working on – like the state budget, gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform – Omar is at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend for the premiere of the documentary chronicling her historic win.
“Time for Ilhan” screens at the festival on Saturday.
As someone who lived in one of the most diverse districts in the state, Omar felt like she had to do something for the community-at-large. As a young person (she was born in 1982) who was new to politics and moved to the United States when she was 12, Omar believes she had a unique perspective on how to confront the issues facing her community.
“We have two huge college campuses, and we have longtime residents and new American communities,” she explains. “Our district needs someone who was fluent in the problems facing these groups.”
Shapiro says Omar’s story and drive to better her community is what made her want to share her story.
“All the reasons why I wanted to make the film in the first place are that much more pressing,” Shapiro says. “I hope Ilhan’s story will inspire people instead despairing and feeling beaten. Inspire more women and people like Ilhan to stop thinking of themselves as outsiders, just get there and make the change the only way they can.”
Omar says the number of women running for office gives her hope.
“My message has always been about women not waiting for an invitation for permission to do anything,” she says.
The documentary is not without its sad moments. The racist and Islamaphobic rhetoric aimed at Omar has only increased, including a rumor about Omar’s marital and immigration status started by a right-wing blogger.
But with her family by her side, Omar made her public service a family effort. Mobilizing her Somali neighbors helped make her election a community effort, and the hard work Omar and her team put in ultimately pays off.
This was no solo effort. “Time for Ilhan” is about the collective power of a grassroots campaign.