Professor’s new film 'Redneck Muslim' now streaming on PBS

Redneck Shane in Mosque still from film Redneck Muslim
Shane listening in a mosque (from the film Redneck Muslim, courtesy of Jennifer Maytorena Taylor)
Redneck Muslim film poster
Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media
Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media

Redneck Muslim, a new short film by associate professor of film and digital media Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, is one of 25 films currently screening in the 2018 PBS Online Film Festival as a presentation of the PBS series POV.  

POV is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. Since 1988, it has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country, premiering more than a dozen of the most innovative programs every year on PBS.

Redneck Muslim tracks the life and work of Shane Atkinson, the first Muslim chaplain in-training at North Carolina’s biggest trauma center and founder of the "Society of Islamic Rednecks."

A 45-year old white man from Mississippi, Shane converted to Islam in 1999. Seeking to celebrate Southern culture with a reformed vision of “redneck” identity--stripped of racism and sexism and embracing diversity--he travels in the film to a gathering of African American Muslim leaders.

Taylor said she first came across Shane’s story after making a documentary film called "New Muslim Cool" that POV broadcast in the 2009 season on PBS.

“Because of that previous work, Shane and I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in common,” Taylor explained. “So when he sent me a friend request on social media a couple of years ago, I looked at his profile and was intrigued by the links and mentions of the Society for Islamic Rednecks.”

“At that time, my friend and colleague Mustafa Davis and I had decided to make some new short films about American Muslims as a way to engage constructively with what we were seeing as an uptick in divisive, racist, and anti-Muslim rhetoric,” she added. “So Shane’s story seemed like a natural one to explore.”

Taylor’s work has been screened at such venues as the Sundance, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Locarno Film Festivals, International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Sundance Channel, Al Jazeera, and NHK-Japan. Her films include Message To Zaire/The Talk for PBS, Daisy and Max for Al Jazeera, Visiting Day for The Atlantic, New Muslim Cool for POV, the feature film Paulina, and the Emmy Award-winning Home Front.

Mustafa Davis, her co-director for the film, has worked extensively throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Africa as a filmmaker, photographer, and educator. Fluent in Arabic, his directing credits include the films The Warm Heart of Africa, Prison Blues, and Deen Tight.

"Over the years several filmmakers have made work that explores hybrid Muslim identities, among them my own 2009 feature documentary New Muslim Cool," Taylor noted. "But this short film also follows how Shane is re-shaping his own white, working-class identity in support of the struggle for racial justice--and I think that is something all white people need to think about right now, regardless of their faith background."

As for the film’s subject, Shane Atkinson, he said in a recent Q&A on PBS that he hopes people will learn something from his story.

“I hope people will see my story and come away with the understanding that we can never give up on each other. It is tempting to look at those we may disagree with and say they are the problem and they are unredeemable.”

“Though we can't control others, we can look inward to see if we are the best version of ourselves,” he added. “Rather than demonizing those we may disagree with, we should always be true to our best selves and take the high road.”

 Watch the 16-minute film at PBS