HBO show “Mogadishu, Minnesota” stirs controversy in Cedar Riverside

As the cable drama stirred protests over the weekend, community members are divided on how the show will reflect the neighborhood

Officers prepare to spray the crowd when individuals started throwing plastic bottles and liquid on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

Image by Easton Green

Officers prepare to spray the crowd when individuals started throwing plastic bottles and liquid on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

by Eliana Schreiber

A block party concert in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood Saturday was disrupted by protesters concerned about how an upcoming TV show will depict their community.

The headliner of Saturday’s concert, K’naan — a Somali-Canadian rapper — co-wrote a forthcoming HBO drama called “Mogadishu, Minnesota.” Some residents of the neighborhood are concerned the show will slight Minneapolis’ Somali-American community.

Others, however, think the show — co-produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Academy Award-winning director of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Hurt Locker” — will accurately depict the Cedar-Riverside community. 

Two people were arrested during the protests, said Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Corey Schmidt. He said one woman was sent to Hennepin County Jail for probable cause of riot, while a minor was arrested and sent to a juvenile processing center.

Police used chemical irritants to disperse the group. Some protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers, two of whom were hit but not harmed, Schmidt said. He declined to say what chemicals were used.

“I was not expecting this,” she said. “The police were doing what they do best … escalating things,” said 27-year-old Filsan Ibrahim, one of the protest’s organizers. She said she wanted to show the community doesn’t support the new TV show.

Mogadishu, Minnesota

The show ­­­— in the early stages of production — tells the story of life as a Somali-American, said West Bank Community Coalition board Chair Mohamed Jama.

Jama said the script is unique because it tells a story that hasn’t been portrayed in any other show or movie before.

Since K’naan is a fellow Somali, the show reflects real-life experiences in the community, he said.

On his Facebook page, K’naan said he has good intentions for the show.

“Together, we are about to take on the media’s image of Somalis and Muslims in general, and tell our side of the story — my aim is to present the true and beautiful side that is rarely portrayed in cinema,” he said in the post.

Jama said the show will create 300 to 500 new jobs in the neighborhood and could help unemployed residents.

The show will emphasize the struggles of being a Somali in the U.S. today, which many Cedar-Riverside residents feel, he said.

Ward 6 Minneapolis City Councilman Abdi Warsame, a Somali-American, said it’s encouraging that a Somali man writes the story.

“I think what [K’naan]’s doing is courageous,” Warsame said, adding that he thinks the show will help representation of Somali-American immigrants

He said he respects K’naan, and finds the storyline intriguing. Warsame said he has read parts of K’naan’s script.

The show is fictional, and while it may portray stereotypes, he said community members should keep an open mind.

“You might not like it,” he said. “But HBO is a big deal, and this is an artist from our community that has been given this opportunity.”

Despite the assurances, community activist Omar Jamal said he isn’t sure that the show will be balanced.

“I think it will be a typical American show,” he said. “There is a prevailing perception among the majority of the citizens of this country about recruitments, about ISIS, about Islam … and there’s no way they can ignore that.”

Burhan Mohumad, a Cedar-Riverside resident, helped organize the protest with youth in the community because he worried the show will negatively portray Muslims and perpetuate stereotypes about Jihadi recruitment.

“The show is to promote the fear of Muslims,” Mohumad said.

K’naan’s involvement in the production helps, Jamal said, but may not overcome existing stereotypes.

While it is fair for the community to be skeptical, concerned community members should wait to see how the show turns out, Warsame said.

“I don’t think [K’naan] would intentionally try to make the community look bad,” he said.