Amr Kawji: Changing The Perception in Mainstream Media

Amr’s family immigrated to the US from Syria. He shares how he broke the mold of expectations by pursuing a career as a videographer. Amr shares his identity as a Muslim American, and how he wants to change the media perception of Muslims in mainstream media. This story was recorded in partnership with StoryCorps and MALA.


“I think as a Muslim American, as an Arab American who has grown up in the United States his whole life. I was born and raised here from parents who immigrated from Syria. Now, I think one of the main reasons why I wanted to come down here and speak about my story is because I am one of the very few Arabs or Muslim Americans who decided to branch off from being a doctor or engineer or lawyer and do something completely out of the norm. And, so right now I am a videographer. I have been doing video telling stories for about nine to ten years now. I’m not in it for the money, and I’m not in it for the fame. I’m in it for the next generation that is to come. The next generation out there who are, like, my brother or my sister, or even my kids. I want them to grow up knowing that they can be something that they want – that they can put their mind to. You can be a firefighter, you can be a, someone that wants to be on the news, someone that wants to do something in PR, Communications. Anything that you put your mind to, you should go for it.

Around 2014, 2015, I decided to go back to school. So I went to film school. I learned a lot of things, I mean the one thing about filmmakers is, personally, if I were to give any advice, don’t go to film school. Like, you guys can be much more creative. Like, film school doesn’t really teach you how to be creative. The creative mindset belongs here, inside your brain, right? You can learn the techniques, but, like, if you want to be successful with what you do, you gotta go, think outside the box, and film school doesn’t necessarily tell you that, right? It just basically prepares you, teaches you the basics, and then they leave you with the rest for you to decide. Like, how are you going to manipulate this? How are you going to change this? So, that’s my little small advice. But, I mean, it’s not like I wasted my time there. I learned a lot. I took classes in not only just editing, which was kind of mainly my expertise. I took classes in film, I took classes in, like, how to operate a camera, how to color a scene, lighting, like all these things. All these little things matter in the film industry.

During my time at Columbia College, I decided to go to my dad, and I was like, “Baba, like, I think it’s time that you invest in me, and I will pay you back if you just give me this amount of money to purchase my own camera, because I’m sick and tired of getting footage from other people and being asked to make a video out of it. Like, I have an idea, and I know how to film ten times better than the stuff they’ve been giving me; like, let me do this.” So, my dad decided to do that, and thanks to my mom too – she kind of convinced him. You know, my dad’s always about the cheapest option, and so I ended up buying the camera that I pleased, and actually within two, three jobs, the freelance jobs, I was able to pay him back. And he didn’t care much about the money, it’s just more of just like, he wants to know that I’m actually doing something out of his investment. So when I tried paying him back, he refused. He said, “I just want to know that you’re doing something, and I feel like you’re doing it the right way.”

I really hope that one day, I can be one of those many Muslims who represents the Muslim community on TV and defending our rights as Muslim Americans. So, when you ask, like, what kind of career path I’m choosing to do in film, it’s not necessarily a specific end goal. But I do want to be someone that provides a difference in this nation, specifically on the perception of Muslims.
I’m just going to keep saying this again and again. If you are a person who wants to do something in life, but are scared because you don’t feel like you’re going to be successful in it, do it. Because if you have a passion for something, I guarantee you, you are going to be successful at it. Hasan Minhaj , the foreign correspondent for the Daily Show, said that there are going to be obstacles. If you failed in it, then there’s a likelihood that one day you’re going to be a success in the future. I promise you, I promise you, you will become successful at what you are if you put your mind to it. And if you have a passion for it, then you are going to be the greatest person in that field.”

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