Redneck Muslim Q&A

Posted by PBS Online Film Festival Editor on

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the respondents.

PBS spoke with Director and Producer Jennifer Maytorena Taylor and film subject Shane Atkinson on the making of "Redneck Muslim."​

PBS: Jennifer, how did you first come across Shane’s story?

Jennifer Maytorena Taylor: I made a feature 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. 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. So Shane’s story seemed like a natural one to explore.

"Rather than demonizing those we may disagree with, we should always be true to our best selves and take the high road." 

PBS: At one point during the film, Shane mentions an incident he experienced in North Carolina when someone yelled, “Go back to where you came from” at his wife.

What was it like for you to hear that for the first time when you were working on this profile? What was it like for you to witness him during his day-to-day and to see his interactions with others in the community?

Jennifer: Unfortunately, the incident that Shane mentioned about his wife did not surprise me.

Witnessing his interactions with so many diverse people – especially in the hospital where Shane was working as a chaplain and then at the conference of African American Muslims where he asked for advice about his projects  – underscored for me the importance of honoring how complex all people are, and the importance of listening to each other across our differences. 

Also it’s not very obvious in the film because it touches on a serious subject matter, but we had a lot of fun making it and our crew spent a lot of time laughing with Shane and his family because they are really, really funny in addition to being loving and thoughtful.

PBS: Shane, what do you hope others will take away from your story?

Shane Atkinson: 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. Rather than demonizing those we may disagree with, we should always be true to our best selves and take the high road.

A verse in the Qur'an elaborates: "Good and evil cannot be equal. Respond 'to evil' with what is best, then the one you are in a feud with will be like a close friend."

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