“Same God” documentary draws back veil on Wheaton Prof fired for wearing hijab

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“Same God” documentary draws back veil on Wheaton Prof fired for wearing hijab

Photo courtesy IMDb.com

Photo courtesy IMDb.com

Photo courtesy IMDb.com

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Two years ago, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a now former professor at Wheaton College, was dismissed from her job for wearing the hijab. She was the first black female tenured professor in the college’s nearly 160 year existence, and her dismissal caused a hurricane of on and offline discussions about the Christian campus’ attitude towards Islam.

It all started with a conversation between Hawkins and a student. Amidst 2016’s heightened islamophobic rhetoric, the student was afraid to wear her hijab in public as she flew back home for the holidays. Hawkins took to social media, and, with one simple post, stated that she would be wearing a hijab in solidarity with the student since at the end of the day, they both “serve the same God”. What followed was a whirlwind of social media backlash from Wheaton students and faculty alike, resulting in her almost immediate dismissal from the Wheaton faculty.

Two years later this past September, a documentary on the story titled “Same God” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The director is Linda Midgett, a Wheaton alum with an IMDB page that boasts an impressive career including many Emmy nominations and a win. She has “directed, written and supervised more than 600 hours of programming for networks such as NBC-Universal, The History Channel, Discovery and National Geographic.”

I had the pleasure of speaking with Midgett, who came to Calvin College this past week to premiere the film in Grand Rapids. She was able to shed more light on what lead her to create this documentary, and the impact it has had on the larger discussion at hand when it comes to theology and tolerance. Upon my later discussion with Midgett, Hawkins was unavailable for additional comments.

The Grand Rapids premiere was this past Wednesday, Nov. 5, and opened to a sold out audience. There was a moderated discussion afterwards centered on the feelings elicited by the documentary as well as a broader discussion on Christian to Muslim relations in largely Christian spaces. Midgett explained that during the discussion afterwards, many people felt “really challenged” about their preconceived ideas on the matter that they now felt weren’t true. “They left feeling surprised,” and in her book, that was a good thing.

We discussed how different this project was from her typical daytime episodic work, and what lead her to go in this direction. “Same God” was directed as an independent film, a marked difference from the larger public sector projects she’s been able to produce. So what led her to create it?

“The difference was, this project was intensely personal for me. It was about my alma mater and topics I cared deeply about.” It was the first independent documentary she’d directed, which presented itself with its own set of problems. At the end of the day, it had more of her “heart and soul and own thinking.” It made directing this project harder but more gratifying.

I asked her if, considering the fact that she was a Wheaton alum, she thought that her documentary would be construed as a political statement, and if so, whether that was something she worried about. She said that there were likely many people who would take the mere fact that she is even talking about this as proof that she was taking a political stance. But really, she tried to be “fair and open-handed” in casting the story in even light. Her aim was to create a space for people to “grow, and think, and feel safe doing that without creating any barriers.”

In discussion of why she chose to name the documentary “Same God”, she said that it was intended to be a sort of “tongue-in-cheek” title because those were the exact words Dr. Hawkins also mentioned in her social media post that started all the turmoil. “A lot of people think that [because of the title] I’m giving a treatise on why I think Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” but that isn’t what it’s about.

Because the film actually explores the way evangelicals treat the Muslim community, and the strong diverging opinions on whether Wheaton handled the Hawkings case in the correct manner, “It’s actually more of a look at whether evangelicals worship the same God.” Midgett added that in the creation of her documentary, Wheaton College declined to participate.

Midget hopes you go see the film, and if you do, hopes that you walk away from the film feeling challenged to see what embodied solidarity looks like in your own lives.