Kent State alumnus produces documentary highlighting Black-Muslim experience

Aman Ali, producer of “Two Gods.”

Kent State alumnus Aman Ali graduated in 2006 as a newspaper reporter. He paved his way through many successes since then, including careers as a stand-up comedian and a storyteller. Now, he has the title of documentarian to add to his resume.

Aman and his brother, NYU film graduate Zeshawn Ali, joined forces to give insight into the spiritual culture of Black-American Muslims. “Two Gods” tells the story of Hanif Muhammad, a casket maker and ritual body washer, as he coaches two young boys into his work. 

While growing up in the suburbs of Columbus, the brothers faced a lack of diverse representation in their community and in the media. The representation of their Muslim culture was, and continues to be, politicized, Aman said. So in the making of this film, they wanted to stray as far from that as possible to create an educational narrative.

“It was important for us to tell a story that had nothing to do with terrorism, nothing to do with current events, or this or that,” Aman said. “And often, narratives about Black-American Muslims aren’t often included in these conversations.”

The film isn’t meant to be solely educational, Aman said, but rather follows an arc of Hanif guiding his two companions through life and some of its lessons. By giving an honest perspective into these traditions, “Two Gods” normalizes rather morbid conversations. 

“We noticed that in not only filming, but even talking to people, that people are just grossly underprepared when it comes to death,” Aman said. “A lot of people don’t have wills, a lot of people haven’t talked to their parents or their families about death. And very often, you don’t think about these things until you lose someone, and somebody like myself – having lost my dad, I know from experience, how difficult it is to start dealing with these things when you’re in the middle of grieving.”

Because of these shared experiences, the team will work with communities of color in “end-of-life-preparation workshops” post-showing of the film. 

Aman and Zeshawn made use of their learned experiences at their respective schools. After 15 years, Aman is still able to use techniques and translate concepts he learned during his time in the School of Media and Journalism. Being at Kent State also helped him to explore groups and organizations, such as The Kent Stater, that encouraged leadership values within himself. 

“Everything I always wanted to do at the time, I tried to do it,” Aman said. “I may not have been successful at it – I may have been a failure at certain things, or upset people, or this or that, … I can look back and say, without a doubt, that I did everything I wanted to.”

“Two Gods” has won multiple film festival awards and is a New York Times Critic’s Pick. The film is currently being shown in theaters nationwide, but will also be available to view June 21 on PBS

Kelsey Paulus is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]