A DREAM IN DOUBT began in the dark hours following the flood of images featuring 9/11’s turbaned and bearded terrorists. My Sikh American friends—who also wore turbans and beards in accordance with their faith—immediately felt the backlash of misdirected anger but no one was truly prepared for Balbir Singh Sodhi’s murder on September 15, 2001. This was America’s first post-9/11 revenge killing, a Sikh gas station owner shot to death in Mesa, Arizona. Though many Americans recall hearing about this story, it was ultimately a blip in the media amidst the chaos of the 9/11 attacks.
Over the next two years, I watched as an epidemic of hate crimes received almost no national analysis or significant media coverage. If we didn’t address this issue, how many other tragedies like Balbir’s would we suffer? I wanted to make A DREAM IN DOUBT to humanize post-9/11 hate crimes by bringing the Sodhi family out of the shadows.
Although I am not Sikh, I had previously produced an educational media project for the Sikh American community, and felt I could gain access to the Sodhi family to tell their story. When I contacted the Sodhis, Rana shared that another member of the Sikh community had recently been shot in a hate crime. At this point, with support from a Sikh American co-producer, Preetmohan Singh, and many friends, there was no turning back. As I began chronicling the Sodhi family’s experience, I realized that Rana’s enduring faith in the American Dream was at the heart of the story.
One delicate issue in A DREAM IN DOUBT pertains to the fact that Sikhs are not Muslims. This misunderstanding so clearly represented the degree of ignorance behind the blind hatred but it also forced Sikhs to walk a fine line when distinguishing themselves from Muslims. It was important to educate about their differences without seeming to say that it was, in fact, appropriate to assign the blame for 9/11 to all Muslims. As Rana says in the film, he doesn’t want anyone of any ethnicity to be hurt by hate.
I have often been asked why it matters whether a hate crime is called a hate crime. Isn’t a murder victim who is killed for any other reason considered as important as someone who is murdered out of hate? Of course, the individual’s life has equal value, but labeling a hate crime is important because this single act terrorizes an entire group.
I hope that A DREAM IN DOUBT helps viewers create a meaningful dialogue about identity, immigration, the impact of hate crimes on communities, and what it means to be American. Most importantly, I hope it can bring people of different backgrounds together to build new relationships. In many ways, Phoenix provides a model because law enforcement, local media, interfaith groups and the justice department rallied around Rana and his community to show their support and build friendships. I would love to see this model replicated far and wide.