In October 2013, Sony Pictures will release a Tom Hanks motion picture purporting to tell the story of the Maersk Alabama’s hijacking in 2009 by a band of Somali Pirates. This narrative is told from the vantage point of its captain, Richard Phillips, played by Tom Hanks. My documentary, however, tells the story and more but from the vantage point of the one surviving Pirate, a teenager named Abduwale Abdukhad Muse. With three other Somali teenagers, Muse took the ship’s captain Richard Phillips hostage. During the rescue by US Navy Seals, Muse’s three compatriots were killed but he survived to become the first person to be charged of piracy in the United States in more than a century. The Captain, Richard Phillips, wrote a book called a Captain’s Duty, about the hijacking episode and was lauded as a hero but soon after the crew of the ship came out with a conflicting version of the episode, a version they say they had previously sworn to take to their grave. Their version contradicts the captain’s version and tells a different story. This version is yet to be fully told.
The first time I saw Muse was when he was being brought to America; handcuffed and surrounded by security agents. What baffled and intrigued me was that he was smiling as he was escorted by the security agents whilst handcuffed. I couldn’t understand who would be smiling in that position and why he was smiling. That smile intrigued me and I decided to find more about Muse himself. It has been a journey that has taken me to being held as a prisoner in Somalia and attending his trial and sentencing in New York. The more I found out about Muse — growing up in Somalia in a failed state, his American dream, the girl he was working to marry, the recruitment into piracy at the age of 16, the piracy training he undertook, the three ships he hijacked, being captured and held hostage by the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab in Somalia, the hijacking of the American flagged ship, the trial in the U.S, experience of solitary confinement for more than a year, life in prison and his fight for a retrial — the more I felt that Muse’s story needed to be told. During the hijacking and hostage drama of the Maersk Alabama, one of the ship’s crew stabbed Muse’s hand with an ice pick and tied him up. The crewmember said Muse pleaded with him to take him to America. The Maersk Alabama crewmember, ATM "Zahid" Reza, said Muse told him it was his dream to come to America. "His dream has come true, but he comes to the United States not as a visitor, but as a prisoner," Reza said. I was intrigued enough to want to make a documentary about him, the working title, no coincidence: The Smiling Pirate. Many people have theorized about Muse’s smile but still no one knows for sure why he was smiling. Only Muse knows but he has not yet had his chance to tell us.
When Muse was first arrested there was an issue with his age because he said he was 16 years old when first arrested and his parents also said he was 16 years old so his trial kept being postponed to find out his real age. Later an American agent said Muse had confessed to being 18 years. Muse was then charged as adult and sentenced to nearly 34 years. Since that time Muse has learnt to speak English and read all the information he could get his hands on about his case. He also read about the laws in the U.S. Muse is fighting for a retrial and is trying to file papers with international courts. Muse wants to tell his story but he says everything is being done to silence him. For example, Muse says he was kept in solitary confinement for more than a year under what the U.S calls SAM's (Special Administrative Measures) used mainly for terrorist suspects and he says this was done to make him confess his age. Muse twice tried to commit suicide under SAM’s and was showing signs of PTSD. He says that SAM’s made him to start losing his mind and just wanted to plead guilty to get out of the extreme solitary confinement. The documentary will also explore the use of SAM’s with regards to Muse and other people who are designated terrorism suspects.
To the world, Muse is nothing but a pirate. We live in a culture of labels and we lose people behind those labels. Labels dehumanize. They make it easier for us to compartmentalize people, to put them in a box and forget about them. That is the world we live in. With The Smiling Pirate, I also want to give a face and personal story to Somali piracy. It is important that we know each other’s stories and do away with the walls we hide behind. As of September 30th 2012, suspected Somali pirates were holding 11 vessels for ransom with 167 crewmembers as hostages onboard. In addition, 21 kidnapped crewmembers are being held on land. By knowing each other’s stories, we are able to move forward and create dialogues that can diffuse problems.
I speak with Muse regularly by phone, email and letters. He wants a chance to tell his story. In telling Muse’s story, I hope to put a face to modern day piracy and tell the story that is missing from the headlines. Please help me tell this story and it doesn’t have to be through donations but through telling other’s about Muse’s story.
There are many people involved in telling Muse's story and they have given their time and skills freely. Contributions from the crowdfunding will be used for interviewing Muse in prison, traveling to Somalia again to interview people who are involved in Muse's story and interviewing the crew of the Maersk Alabama in the U.S. The contributions will be used for traveling, equipment, food and accommodation. The amount contributed will not cover the whole expenses of the film as the budget of the project is the more than what we are asking for on Indiegogo. The amount from Indiegogo will help us start filming while we find other ways of getting the rest of the funding. We think it is imperative that we film the interview of Abduwale Muse before everything else as he is afraid that his story will not be allowed to be told and he urgently wants to tell it so the Indiegogo fund will be used for that. The film will have an animation aspect to it as Muse relates his story. The animation and other aspects of the documentary will be covered with funding that we are currently applying for outside of Indiegogo.
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