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The Letter: An American Town and the 'Somali Invasion' (2003)

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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 124 users   Metascore: 70/100
Reviews: 33 user | 35 critic | 13 from Metacritic.com

In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy a firestorm erupts when 1,100 Somali refugees relocate to predominately white Lewiston, Maine.

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Title: The Letter: An American Town and the 'Somali Invasion' (2003)

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In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy a firestorm erupts when Mayor Larry Raymond of Lewiston, Maine sends a letter to 1,100 newly arrived Somali refugees advising that the city's resources are strained to the limit and asking that other Somalis not to move to the city. Interpreted as racism by some and a rallying cry by white supremacist groups across the United States, THE LETTER documents the crossfire of emotions and events, culminating in a "hate" rally convened by The World Church of the Creator and a counter "peace" rally involving 4,000 Lewiston residents supporting ethnic and cultural diversity. Written by Marc Sandler

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nazi | invasion

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13 November 2003 (USA)  »

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Remarkably gripping documentary film-making
17 July 2004 | by (Massachusetts, US) – See all my reviews

The Letter, by independent filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh, is a great complement to the novel, "The Ice Beneath Us", by first-time author Christian Bauman.

The latter tells the semi-autobiographical story of a US soldier sent to Somalia during the "Black Hawk Down" period, more specifically about his inability to adjust to civilian life back in the US after the traumatic events in Somalia.

The Letter tells what is, in some ways, the "other" side of the story -- that of Somalia refugees who fled to the US, and eventually settled in a small town in Maine -- ironically just a few miles from the home town of one of the soldiers killed in Mogadishu during the Black Hawk Down incident.

Hamzeh masterfully lets the story tell itself and lets the real people reveal their own characters, without intrusive narration or heavy-handed editing.

The result, rather than being a polemic, is an unflinching yet ultimately hopeful look at the nature of ignorance, fear and hate, each breeding the other, as a working-class community struggles to come to terms with strangers in their midst, with racist hate-groups that seek to exploit the culture-clash and misunderstandings that ensue, and the national media that swoops down like vultures to inflame all sides.

Ultimately, it is the ordinary people of Lewiston, Maine, who emerge with their dignity intact, rising above their baser instincts and coming to embrace the Somali people among them as brothers and sisters and, above all, human beings.

A profoundly beautiful piece of documentary film-making, which stands out even in this season of blockbuster documentaries, and a must-see for everyone who wishes to have their faith in ordinary Americans renewed.


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