STRANGER AT THE GATE is presented as a heartwarming tale of the importance of kindness, but peeling back the layers reveal a misguided mess of a documentary. The Malala Yousafzai-produced Oscar-nominated short follows the story of a former Marine who plots a terrorist attack on a local mosque. As I was watching this film, I didn’t think anything of it; it’s a feel-good story. But afterward, a few things stuck out to me that just don’t sit right.
We’re following a story told from the perspective of a domestic terrorist. I know serial killer documentaries are popular, but building bombs, planning an attack, not getting punished, then being interviewed about the episode doesn’t sit right with me. The amount of hatred the film’s subject spews doesn’t feel normal and shouldn’t be accepted.
The kindness of people, especially immigrants and other marginalized groups, should not be expected or relied upon to sway someone from violence. The film’s title, STRANGER AT THE GATE, refers to the would-be bomber’s arrival at the mosque; it would be understandable and reasonable if he were turned away.
And lastly, I don’t want to spoil the film, but its resolution wasn’t as empowering as its creators probably thought.
Overall, we can appreciate and value the kindness shown by the Muncie, Indiana residents, especially the Bahrami family, in this film, as well as the implications of P.T.S.D, while also questioning and critiquing the incorrect and off-putting implications that this short film has. Although marketed as a film about kindness, I can’t help but imagine how odd this film would feel if the premise was swapped and if it were about an immigrant plotting a terrorist attack on a church.
STRANGER AT THE GATE is available to stream on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel. I watched it as part of ShortsTV’s presentation of the Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts in theaters.