Update About the WorldFest Incident, Including Recent News Articles

Edit (4/26): The newest, (I think) the most clear and useful, and (I hope) the last article about this incident, from whatculture.com’s contributor Aeryk Pierson, who was a third-party witness to the incident.

Edit (4/25): One last Houston Chronicle article, that was posted online on Wednesday (4/24).

Edit (8pm): Just as I was writing this post, a sort-of apology was posted on the World Fest Facebook page.  Please feel free to read the post on their Facebook page, but I will also quote it at the bottom of this post so it is easier to find.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to give an update on the WorldFest incident and what has been happening in the last two days.  I thought the initial post was becoming too heavy with edits and updates. On the other hand, I’m worried that people will not see this update because the news stories have so far linked to my initial post.

In any case, just to fill everyone in who may (or may not) care:

As of 7:00pm on Tuesday, three separate online news sources have covered the story:

Houston Press, The Houston Chronicle, and Culture Map Houston.

These articles attempt to portray both sides of the story: my brother’s and Hunter Todd’s, and for the most part they have been fair.  The Houston Press article ran mostly based upon my blog and my brother’s facebook post. They attempted to contact Hunter Todd without success, but later added his response when he contact them.  The Houston Chronicle article interviewed Hunter Todd, but only ran with the information  from Mike’s facebook post. Mike later contacted the Chronicle because they had a few facts wrong, which they have now changed, but they did not add any additional comments from Mike. The Culture Map article did interview BOTH Hunter Todd and Mike.  I think Hunter Todd’s responses in each article speak for themselves.  I found it terrifying that Hunter Todd does not deny searching the Muslim student’s bag, and even explains that he did so BECAUSE she was wearing a hijab and demands: “What am I supposed to do?  Allow a terrorist to blow up 200 people?” (quoted in the Houston Chronicle article). THAT, my friends, is the DEFINITION of profiling.

I am concerned about a few things, however. Hunter Todd is resorting to character attacks on my brother, calling him a liar – particularly in regards to Mike’s claim that Hunter Todd tried to take his phone.  AND YET, at least one University of Houston student and one other WorldFest attendant (who commented on my initial blog) have CONFIRMED that Hunter Todd did in fact try to take Mike’s phone.  Unfortunately, neither the Houston Chronicle article nor the Culture Map article have included this information (and the Houston Press article only briefly mentions it), despite the fact that both witnesses said they were willing to go on record to corroborate the story. Thus, the news stories make it LOOK as if it is merely a case of he said/he said, with no proof on other side — when in fact TWO witnesses CAN and are WILLING to confirm at least parts of my brother’s version of events.

On TOP of this: from what I understand, The School of Communications at University of Houston have written a formal letter in defense of both the Muslim student and my brother.  Apparently, Hunter Todd has given a response.  I do not know what either letter contained, however, because the School of Communications has so far made neither their letter nor the response public.  This is unfortunate, as the fact that no one is aware that the University has become involved makes it even easier for Hunter Todd to attack Mike’s character with impunity, because the news articles present Mike as if he is a lone unsupported voice.  I fervently hope that the School of Communications, and preferably the whole University, will publicly support both the Muslim student and my brother and help to defend them both from accusations of lying.

And let me add this: Obviously, I was not at the event and I did not witness this incident. I am only involved so far as spreading the word is concerned. But I believe and trust my brother.  Besides which, what POSSIBLE motive could he have for lying about ANY of this?  I hope you all who have showed an interest and concern about this will continue to support us, and particularly my brother, as this situation moves forward, because I fear it is going to get worse before it gets better, and I do not want my brother to run under the bus because he was trying to do the right thing.

Thank You.

PS: on a side note, some of the comments on the Houston Chronicle article are absolutely HORRIFYING, and just go to show how far and how deep these ignorant, racist, Islamaphobic attitudes run. It makes me horribly sad.

The “apology” post from the World Fest Houston Facebook page:

WorldFest sincerely regrets any actions that were misconstrued or deemed offensive due to the recent situation during the organization’s master class at the Westchase Marriott this past weekend. WorldFest organizers acted on instinct for the safety of all based on the recent events in Boston. The emergency alarm and evacuation of the hotel resulted in great concern for the organization which felt its actions were justified to protect the well-being of all participants. WorldFest apologizes for responding in a way that may have seemed insulting but ultimately, everyone’s safety was the primary concern.

WorldFest plans to increase security in 2014 so festival staff can focus solely on enriching Houston’s film culture. WorldFest strives to provide a safe environment for persons of every background to collaborate with and learn from international film and filmmakers through cultural exchange, dialogue and master classes. As always, the festival and all of its events are open to the general public. We hope every culture, religion and nationality will be represented in the 47th annual WorldFest-Houston, April 2014.

Hunter Todd
WorldFest Founder and Chief Executive Officer

I hope you’ll forgive me for giving my own opinion of this post (I suppose I should just let you come to your own conclusions, but it is my blog, so I guess I’m entitled to share my opinion). This is the worst kind of false apology, one I’ve seen many times under a variety of circumstances, in which the person apologizes but insisted it was all a big misunderstanding, and thus not REALLY his/her fault, and implying that it is really the victim’s fault for “misconstruing” and therefore over-reacting. Furthermore, this “apology” such as it is only apologizes for what he claims was a legitimate security concern (which is ludicrous), and does not even admit to the secondary problem: that Hunter Todd did, in fact, have physical contact with my brother and tried to take his phone.  I hope the public will see this frantic face-saving move for the B.S. it is.

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SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

UPDATE (4/23): For more updates, please see this post. Thank you.

UPDATE (4/22): Houston Press wrote an online article covering this incident, including speaking with another student (who remained anonymous) who corroborated the story. They also attempted to contact WorldFest for a statement, which was initially ignored. However, after the story broke, Hunter Todd wrote in response to the Houston Press article, which has now been added to that article. Here is a link to the full article: “W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag ‘Because She Is a Muslim’.”

EDIT (4/21): I have been informed (and by that I mean berated) that my use of the words “racism” and “racial profiling” in connection with this is “fraudulent” because Islam is not, in fact, a race. I am actually aware of this, however I wasn’t sure what other terms would work, and assumed that “racial profiling” at least got the main issue across. Furthermore, I do not know the Muslim student personally, but I believe that the harassment was motivated entirely on her physical appearance as Middle Eastern (I don’t know if she wore a hijab or any other visual markers as Muslim or not), which WOULD in fact place it in the realm of racial profiling. However, if anyone has a preferred term, and would like to inform me, I am all ears.

Original Post (4/20): I apologize for my long absence, but I am breaking radio silence in order to spread the word about a serious matter, and ask you all a favor.

I would like to ask you all to spread the word on an incident of racial profiling and harassment here in Houston.  My brother is a film student at the University of Houston, and was attending the WorldFest International Film Festival in Houston today – a Film Festival, I might add, that is supposed to be inclusive, and aimed toward fostering discussion between students and professionals in the film industry – when he witnessed the founder/director of the Festival demand to search the bag of the only Muslim student in attendance (and ONLY her bag).

As he does not have a blog, he has asked me to share the explanation he wrote on his facebook page.  Please read this and spread the word:

From Mike Rudd’s Facebook Page:

“I had a very revealing time at WorldFest Houston today with the founder and director Hunter Todd proving what an ignorant and aggressive person he really is.

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel’s fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a girl, a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I’d like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn’t ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

At this point I called a professor of mine and told him about the incident and asked if it would be appropriate for me to say something in her defense. I then went to Hunter Todd and asked him if he did in fact demand to search her bag and if so why. He told me, “because she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down.” I told him I would not sit down and that this was unacceptable and racial profiling. I offered to take it outside to discuss with him and he then said, “no you’re one of the people I despise the most and you’re an obnoxious little bastard, now sit down or I’ll have you thrown out. In response I said he should feel free to throw me out, at which point I pulled out my cell phone to call someone about the situation. At this point he lunged towards me grabbed me with both hands and tried to take my phone from me. I separated myself from him told him not to touch me and left the room to avoid further escalation.

Later, I called WorldFest to file an official complaint about a racial incident involving there founder and director. I was placed on hold for several minutes when a woman named Kathleen picked up. I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said “you called us now tell me your name”. I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone “TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!” Not willing to give into to this I told her that if that was going to be how it was I would go straight to the press and that I was hanging up. She began to yell something else at me as I hung up the phone.

All of this because at an INTERNATIONAL film festival, an ignorant and aggressive man, Hunter Todd, decided it was okay to target a student for being Muslim.  The saddest part of all is that the girl felt it was wrong, but that it was just the way it goes. Worse still, was that to her point not a single other person in the room of the dozens in attendance said or did anything in her defense.”

My brother has currently contacted several news stations who said they would look into it, though we do not know for certain that they will take any serious interest in the story.  His professor, who is known among local Houston television people, is also contacting people. My brother has TRIED to file a complaint with the police on account of Hunter Todd’s physical contact and attempt to literally take the phone from his hand, but the officer Mike spoke to said there was nothing to be done. My brother is planning to contact a different officer who may be more willing to take this seriously.

We are also considering the option of contacting the ACLU, though that would probably have to come more directly from the Muslim student, rather than from my brother who only witnessed the initial harassment.

In the meantime, we would appreciate it if you could spread the word about this atrocious behavior. Reblog this post. Link to it in other places. EMBARRASS THIS ORGANIZATION AND THIS MAN.  Remind people that there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for racial profiling, racism, or harassment.

Here is WorldFest’s Facebook Page and Twitter Profile. Tell them what you think about this unacceptable behavior.

Thank you.