A TOWN CALLED VICTORIA
Stream all 3 episodes now with KPBS Passport! / Monday, Nov. 13, 2023 at 9 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
On Jan. 28, 2017, leaders of the Victoria, Texas, Muslim community, Abe Ajrami, Omar Rachid, and Dr. Shahid Hashmi, watched as their mosque burned to the ground. A REEL SOUTH and INDEPENDENT LENS original series, A TOWN CALLED VICTORIA follows the aftermath and investigations into the fire to answer the question of how a multifaith community can come together to turn against hate.
From award-winning filmmaker Li Lu, the series follows the stories of Ajrami, Rachid, and Hashmi as they reckon with the incident and seek to restore their sacred space, while reflecting on the journeys they took to find acceptance as Muslim Americans in a conservative Christian small town. The day after the fire, as the leaders survey the site of the destroyed mosque, over 500 Victorians gather to stage a peace rally and express their support. Within a week, a GoFundMe campaign created by Rachid to rebuild the mosque goes viral and raises more than $1 million , and the story of Victoria makes headlines around the world as a parable of togetherness in dark times.
Eventually, the camera crews leave and Victoria fades from the national spotlight, and the south Texas town starts to face difficult questions about its own identity, particularly when a local resident is arrested for burning the mosque. Members of its tight-knit community—activists, preachers, worshippers, students, teachers, and leaders—gather to grapple with the town’s deep-seated religious, political, racial, and economic rifts, seeking a collective way forward.
“The story of the people of Victoria is one of resilience and commitment to community in the face of hate,” said director Li Lu. “As a Texan and an immigrant myself, I felt so drawn to capture and share this story because I deeply understand the push and pull you feel between love of your home and the complexity of the minority experience. In this series, we wanted to be as kaleidoscopic as we could while never losing sight of that human element. The story touches so many expansive themes of American life—religion, patriotism, masculinity, race, history, politics, hate, hope—it felt like a microcosm of our times. I hope the series provokes viewers to reflect on the power and potential we all have in our communities to come together, work through hardship, advocate for the marginalized, and pursue collective healing.”
The series weaves together community member interviews and newscast reportings of the incident, as well as animated sequences based on official transcripts, trial sketches, and eyewitness accounts, to paint a picture of the harrowing events that took place in Victoria, and how its people came together afterward. A TOWN CALLED VICTORIA offers viewers an intimate, real-time look at the raw emotions of those involved as events unfold.
“The Fire” Monday, Nov. 13 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV - A south Texas town is thrown into the national spotlight when a local mosque is burned to the ground in 2017. After the media moves on, the community is left to reflect on its complex history with racism.
"The Suspect" - (schedule TBA) With the arson trial near, the suspect’s family argues his innocence. Meanwhile, facets of Victoria reveal the ingredients that might have turned him to hate and support for the town’s Muslim community begins to wane.
“The Trial” Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV - The prosecution presents shocking evidence. As the trial concludes, the engaged citizens of Victoria seek a way to build a more inclusive community.
Li Lu and Anthony Pedone. Co-produced by the Center for Asian American Media and is a part of the INDEPENDENT LENS Stories for Justice initiative, which aims to spotlight films and series that foster further dialogue and reform around criminal justice in the United States.
“It’s unsettling to think a hate crime might strike close to home. Unfortunately, what happened in Victoria will feel relevant to communities large and small, all across the country,” said Rachel Raney, executive producer of REEL SOUTH. “With this docuseries, we go beyond the headlines, to witness how one American town moved forward in the difficult days and weeks after hate landed on their doorstep.”