About five years ago, actor and filmmaker Noor Naghmi of Washington, D.C., had an idea to make a movie. He was distressed with the negative depiction of Muslims in Hollywood movies such as “The Siege.” He wanted to highlight the good things that Muslim American doctors are doing in small, rural communities all across America.
The result is “Angels Within,” a docudrama that blends a fictional story about discrimination with interviews with real-life Pakistani-American doctors — including Anniston oncologist Aasim Sehbai.
“It’s a good message that people from other parts of the world are helping — being physicians in community settings,” Sehbai said.
The movie will be shown in Birmingham on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the AMC Patton Creek theater, preceded by a welcome ceremony with free refreshments.
Several Pakistani-American doctors in Alabama are featured in the movie, as is the Anniston Islamic Center’s Salam Free Clinic, which was established in 2012 to provide free health care to the community at large, particularly those without health insurance.
“Salam” means “peace.”
“A lot of people know their physicians are from other countries — Pakistan, India, China,” Sehbai said. “There are so many physicians like me, who are working as professionals and are also very much involved in the community. I work at a free clinic once a month on my days off.”
Sehbai is originally from Pakistan. He came to the U.S. about 20 years ago, after his parents moved here. “My father is a journalist and he got an assignment in Washington, D.C. I was in medical school, and once I finished I joined my family,” he said.
Sehbai worked in Delaware for eight years — which is when he met Naghmi — before moving to Anniston with his family about three years ago.
He also considered jobs in South Carolina, North Carolina and New Mexico, but said he chose Anniston because he has friends here, he knew the Islamic Center, and it was close to Atlanta.
He said he has been well received here. “People in the South are very nice. They appreciate everything we do for them. All my friends said, ‘Once you move to the South, you’re not going to want to move out of there.’”
Sehbai said several of his patients are planning to go see the movie. “One of my patients had cancer; unfortunately, she didn’t survive. Her family is coming,” he said.
Sehbai hasn’t yet seen the movie for himself. When it was shown in Washington, D.C., his mother and sister got to see it. “They asked my father to come but he didn’t want to go,” he said with a laugh.
“Angels Within” has been submitted for Oscars consideration in the documentary category. After Saturday’s showing in Birmingham, the movie will begin to travel the country, with screenings next in Florida, Idaho and California.
More information can be found on the “Angels Within Movie” Facebook page.