September 8, 2011

‘The Space Between’ remembers 9/11

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Politics, Television at 11:10 pm by dinaheng

It’s hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is upon us.

When terrorists took control of four airplanes, crashing them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pa. — killing everyone on board — the world was united in its grief.

Since then, as the years have passed, the pain of grief has dulled, and the fear of others who are not like us has grown. Just as Americans hated and feared Asian Americans after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, many Americans today hold similar feelings of hate and anger against Arab Americans because of the al-Qaeda attacks.

When it comes to movies and TV, Arab Americans are often portrayed as the villains, and if you ask most Arab-American youngsters what stereotype do most people associate with Arab Americans, they won’t hesitate to say, “People think we’re terrorists.”

Combatting prejudice and hate is not a popular, or easy, task, so when a television network makes it a cornerstone of its brand to do so, we’ve got to stand up and cheer.

The USA Network will be presenting a Characters Unite film called “The Space Between,” starring Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actress Melissa Leo, on September 11 at 9 p.m. Eastern to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

The film chronicles what happens when Montine McLeod (Leo), a lonely flight attendant on a path of self-destruction, and Omar Hassan (portrayed by Anthony Keyvan), a 10-year-old Pakistani-American boy, are stranded together in Longview, Texas when planes are grounded the morning of 9/11.

When McLeod learns that Omar’s father works in the World Trade Center, she decides to drive him home herself. The two set off on a journey across country that brings unexpected companionship, acceptance, and hope for the future.

Following “The Space Between” will be the Oscar-winning short documentary film “Twin Towers” by Dick Wolfe, producer of the long running “Law & Order” franchise.

The evening’s programming, which promotes tolerance and acceptance, is part of USA Network’s Characters Unite Campaign to combat discrimination, an effort that includes on-air programming, public service announcements, digital content, and special events in communities and schools across the nation.

“We’re a network that can reach millions who tune in every night,” says Toby Graff, senior vice president of public affairs for the USA Network. “We wanted to do something special for 9/11 and learned of this powerful film (“The Space Between”) that debuted at the Tribecca Film Festival. These two people who take a journey across country discover that what makes them different is not as strong as what unites them.”

Using the power of storytelling, Characters Unite has started a national storytelling tour to raise awareness about prejudice, hate, and discrimination, and to bring people together in community and school events.

Graff says Mainstreet stage events have occurred in New York, New Orleans, Denver, Seattle, and Chicago where local cable affiliates in each market identified a high school with a diverse community to participate in storytelling workshops and city-wide events staged in partnership with The Moth, a non-profit organization dedicated to the art of storytelling.

In each city, five storytellers took to the stage with celebrity hosts, including Kristen Chenoweth, Angela Bassett and Peter Gallagher, to share powerful tales of discrimination. On the last day of the events, high school students in each of the cities joined the adult storytellers to share their experiences. The tour will continue this fall in cities yet to be announced.

“This all stems from a campaign that Bonnie Hammer (chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios) launched in the mid-1990s called ‘Erase the Hate,’ to improve race relations,” Graff explains. “To fit with USA’s  branding of Characters Welcome 10 years later, we wanted a way to reflect that every person is welcome and accepted. We wanted to make it broader than just race relations, so we expanded it to gender equality, people with disabilities, sexual orientation, any civil rights issue.”

Characters Unite now gives out awards to unsung heroes doing great work on civil and human rights issues, and is establishing partnerships with other organizations to inform, support, and inspire audiences to bridge cultural divides and overcome social injustices, tied to original programming.

“The country has changed in a lot of ways since 9/11, some for the better, some not so much,” Graff says. “We want to look back with respect at the tragedy of 9/11 and forward with renewing the spirit of being united as a country after that horrible tragedy. We want to concentrate on how we all can talk more with each other.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: