Interview between Lenore Pomerance, Farooq Mohyuddin and his wife, Nadia Ahmad, who, along with their daughters Hira and Iqra, are presenting the next MAGPS Cinema Series movie, “Remember the Titans,” Saturday, October 22, 2016.
Lenore and Nadia are pictured here in serious discussion at one of the Mohyuddin’s favorite downtown South Asian restaurants, Grand Trunk, 641 Indiana Ave. NW. (Disclaimer: participants in this interview have no conflict of interest in recommending this terrific restaurant.)
LP: Nadia and Farooq, we are so excited that you and your daughters are presenting this movie which has many important themes that resonated at the time
the movie was set, 1971, and resonate even more today. Nadia, I understand that you and your daughters all graduated from TC Williams, home of the Titans. What is it like for you being able to send your daughters to your high school?
NA: I was born in Georgetown, raised in Alexandria, and attended T.C. Williams High School. I graduated from T.C. 15 years before the release of the movie “Remember the Titans,” which illustrates events that occurred in 1971 when T.C. was integrated. My high school years, between 1986 and 1990, were a defining period of my life in which I was able to attend an institution that boasted an excellent faculty, challenging curriculum, and students from a multitude of nationalities. Farooq and I chose to live in Alexandria because I wanted our children to attend and experience the diversity that exponentially increased in the years following my graduation in 1990. Our daughters graduated in 2014 and 2016.
LP: So, how similar or different were your experiences at T.C. from those reflected in the movie?
NA: There are a few discrepancies between the movie and real life, one of which is that T.C. was formally integrated in 1965, not in 1971. When I attended T.C. it was well integrated, and unlike other high schools, every student was able to find a niche.
In 1971 three high schools in Alexandria, one of which was all white, were consolidated to form T.C. Williams High School. The recent integration and resulting tensions between the students, formerly separated by race, is reflected in the formation of the 1971 football team. This contrasted starkly with my experience, only 15 years later, when diversity seemed common and was not recognized as the result of extraordinary efforts on the behalf of many who worked to integrate the school in the 1960’s.
LP: Did or does TC represent the diversity of the City of Alexandria?
NA: That’s a complicated question. First you have to understand something about the city of Alexandria. Some people may think of it as a suburb of Washington, D.C., but it is a very old city, established before the founding of the United States, and over the centuries Alexandria has evolved to experience all the advantages and problems associated with any urban American city. This may be due, in part, to the proximity of Alexandria to D.C. In fact, I would define T.C. Williams as an inner city school. The city has historically been divided along racial lines. Old Town Alexandra, which is the east end, was and remains predominantly the region where Caucasians reside. On the other hand, the west end is a mixing pot of any and all nationalities. Within Old Town Alexandria, or the East End, there is a section allocated to low income Section 8 housing for African Americans. This was referenced in the movie as “the Burg.” The dynamic between the two areas within the East End improved slightly in the years following integration, however this outcome has largely been reversed in the past couple decades as gentrification of “the Burg” has occurred.
Within Alexandria, there are 4 high schools, 3 of which are private, with T.C. being the only public high school. It is located in the west end of Alexandria. And while the city may be about 60% white, the demographics at TC are about 29% white, with Hispanic, African-American and Asian students comprising 71%.
The environment at T.C. offers every opportunity to succeed and presents every opportunity to fail as well. There are gangs and drugs, pregnant students, a day care for their babies, and parenting classes. There are also a multitude of Advanced Placement courses, Dual Enrollment courses, college readiness courses, vocational training courses, in addition to a center established for the express purpose of preparing students for college and helping them apply called the Career Center.
LP: How has the movie influenced the T.C. that Hira and Iqra experienced?
NA: Of course, the movie was very popular and has made heroes of many of the players, for example Petey who still works at T.C., and the coaches Boone and Yoast. All students who attend T.C. are very familiar with the movie and take pride in experiencing the diversity that could not even be conceived during the time period represented. When my daughters watched the movie for the first time, they had a newfound appreciation for the opportunity they have to attend an institution in which they were able to interact with, become friends with, and learn from other students from all walks of life.
The girls visited the old building for All City Orchestra and Choir practice which allowed them to see the school which I attended and which was the setting of the movie. They were fortunate themselves to attend a brand new state-of-the-art LEED Certified building completed in 2007 which replaced the old building. This facility rivals college campuses in its size and is another source of pride for the students who attend. The girls’ experiences were pivotal and I ask them to discuss this during the discussion after the movie.
LP: I’ve read that for effect, Hollywood put things into the movie that were made up. How true to the actual events is the movie?
NA: They say the movie is “based on” a true story however, it’s not a documentary. Documentaries have guidelines in order to remain factually accurate, to a degree. When directors use the term “based on” it gives the directors more creative license to fictionalize people and events to dramatize a theme, like racism. On the whole the movie is true enough to events and to people who lived them to be credible.
LP: Farooq, what do you think the impact of the movie has been on the school and our culture?
I have experienced the impact on the movie on school through my children attending this wonderful diverse school. I have seen their pride in the diversity, the ability to discuss the uncomfortable issues that adults have difficulty talking about and the comfort that the students have in addressing differences. It gives me hope that our next generation will be the one that finally has the resources and the determination to challenge the racial divide.
LP: And Farooq, one more question, what can you say about the group dynamics that are played out in this movie?
FM: For a group therapist the movie is all about group dynamics. We see the projections that are part of being human and we see the healing that can occur when there is honest dialogue in the group. This movie to me very clearly demonstrates the stages of group formation, role of leader’s convictions and missteps, importance of courage in group. It speaks the truth that we believe, “trust the group”.
LP: Thank you both so much. Can’t wait for your whole family to be joining us.