By David Felix Sutcliffe
In David Felix Sutcliffe’s first film, he uses intimate vérité footage to report on a teenage Muslim girl suspected of being a “potential” suicide bomber, and her desperate efforts to keep her family from unraveling. ADAMA provides a timely perspective on the experiences of American Muslims at a time when their religion is being equated, by some, with violence and terror.
In March 2005, an FBI document leaked to the press mysteriously identified Adama Bah, a 16-year-old teenager from Harlem, New York, as an “imminent threat to the security of the United States.” The accusations arose in the wake of 9/11, when a series of U.S. counter-terrorism measures, including immigration programs targeting predominantly Muslim countries, resulted in the interrogation of more than 83,000 individuals. While only a few had any links to terrorist groups, nearly 13,000 Muslim immigrants were put in deportation proceedings, with devastating effects on their families.
Adama and her family emigrated to America from Guinea in the 1990s. Though she did not attend mosque regularly as a child, Adama attended an Islamic boarding school as a teen where she gained a deeper understanding of her faith. Despite her mother’s concerns the hijab could “scare people,” Adama believed it allowed her to be valued strictly for the content of her character.
Her faith would be tested early one morning in 2005 when nearly a dozen armed government agents raided the family’s Manhattan apartment. During the investigation, Adama’s father’s undocumented status was discovered and he too was arrested. Her last memory of her father was in handcuffs, before she was taken to a maximum-security detention center in Pennsylvania. Would the Bah family ever be reunited?
The documentary illuminates the emotional, legal, and psychological effects of profiling as a public policy. Adama’s case incited protest and attracted media scrutiny, including coverage in the The New York Times, but her struggles continued long after her release. She remained heavily monitored and was traumatized after being forced to endure humiliating strip searches which came in conflict with her religious views on modesty, and bodily exposure.
Adama’s arrest also revealed her own undocumented status, and she was threatened with deportation to Guinea – a country she left at the age of 2 and where 96% of women are subjected to female circumcision. Unwilling to be separated from her family, Adama feared for her mother, who speaks little or no English, has no family in the States and is the primary caregiver to Adama’s younger and toddler-age siblings.
ADAMA serves as a cautionary tale, as well as a testament of a young woman’s resilience and her lessons from the Q’uran, which teaches patience, and that one must be “strong to face the trials and difficulties of life.” The film demonstrates not only the extraordinary obstacles Adama faces as a Muslim, and as an immigrant, but also the incredible strength she possessed in her quest to support her family and restore hope to her own future.