'Time For Ilhan' Documentary Maker Says Rep. Ilhan Omar Has What It Takes To Lead—But She Can Never Become President

"Are you president now?"

As Ilhan Omar helps her three children get ready for the day, that is the question on her youngest daughter's mind in the opening moments of a documentary following Omar's swift political rise.

"President of this house?" Omar laughs. "Yes."

"My mom is president," her daughter responds.

At the time this scene was filmed in 2016 for the documentary Time for Ilhan, Omar had yet to become a household name, and was making her first run at public office, successfully vying for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Fast forward three years later, however, and Omar, a 37-year-old mother of three who came to America as a refugee, has made headlines across the country and around the world as the first Somali-American, first African-born American, and one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in the U.S. Congress.

But, as Norah Shapiro, the director behind Time For Ilhan, noted in an interview with Newsweek, one thing Omar can never become, under current U.S. laws, is the very thing her daughter envisioned her to be: president.

"There is something special about her," Shapiro, who left a decade-long career as a public defender to pursue documentary filmmaking, said. Within minutes of meeting Omar, Shapiro said she knew the young candidate was "somebody special."

"I think it's the same thing that you're seeing by tens of thousands, which is [that] there's something about her that is disarmingly direct and disarmingly human. She does not comport and carry herself like your typical politician...She's very funny and she's very real," Shapiro said. "And I've seen this not only in my own reactions with her, but as I'm standing behind the camera as a fly on the wall or traveling with her or any number of things, she connects with people in a way that is very special."

In addition, Shapiro said, Omar's "view of elected politics and why she running and what she was running for and what she was running against was incredibly important and compelling...That's what motivated me [to make this documentary]."

However, despite having what it takes to lead, Shapiro said, "unless the Constitution of the United States gets changed," Omar's rising star could never reach the top job in the White House "because Ilhan is not American-born."

"While she is 100 percent American, we do have laws in this country that require the president to have been born in the United States," Shapiro said.

Omar, who was born as the youngest of seven siblings in Somalian capital Mogadishu in 1981 and saw her mother pass away when she was just two-years-old, fled Somalia with her family during the Civil War. She spent four years at a refugee camp in Kenya before arriving in the U.S. in 1995.

The Minnesota politician started her political career off by managing city council campaigns before going on to work as a senior policy aide for politicians in the state.

She saw her first major political success in the 2016 state assembly race documented in Time for Ilhan, which saw her unseat a 44-year incumbent to join the state's legislature.

Then, in the November 2018 elections, Omar rocked the political world once again by becoming, along Michigan's Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress.

The country, and indeed the world, still has yet to see how far Omar's star might rise. However, Article II of the Constitution states that "no person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States...shall be eligible to the office of President," which imposes a clear limit on her aspirations.

While Shapiro said she believes Omar has the makings of a great leader, she said the Minnesota politician herself does not appear to oppose the limitations enforced by the Constitution, even if they set a ceiling on her own political ambitions.

"It's interesting. Ilhan and I did an interview with a local reporter after one of our screenings and the reporter asked her if she thought that that rule was unfair or if it should be changed and I thought she was going to say one thing and she surprised, I think both of us, myself and the reporter, and she said 'No'," Shapiro said. "She thought that was appropriate that that law is appropriate and she was in support of it, which I thought was really interesting."

Shapiro herself said that she also was not "sad" knowing there is a constitutionally imposed cap on Omar's ambitions.

"Before making this film, I would say I fit in the category of people who are fairly cynical or a bit pessimistic about politics in this country and I definitely have come out on the other side feeling much more optimistic about the possibilities," she said. "But, the caveat on that is, I would say that is about what is possible at the local level, at the grassroots level."

"I am very interested in politics obviously, but, the money in politics that plays out at the national level and in particular at the presidential level leaves me a little cold," she said.

As a result, Shapiro said she was "not sad about Ilhan, at least at this point in time, being someone who is ineligible to run for president and I think there are incredible ways for her to be effective...at presenting her local constituency and even at the national and international level."

Already, Shapiro noted, Omar is "at the epicenter of some really important questions that actually occupy the international arena...love it or hate it."

Noting the recent controversy around some of Omar's heated language on Israel, Shapiro said that as a Jewish director herself, she believed that "there were some reactions that I thought were appropriate and she was held accountable in some ways that I thought were right." But other reactions, the documentarian said were "vile, vitriolic" attacks that Shapiro said were "very, very much central" to Omar's identity.

"I had my own issues with some of the language she used and I was very clear about that, but, at the same time, I think that she's asking really, really important crucial vital questions," Shapiro said. And, she said: "I think there is abhorrent Islamaphobia and racism involved in a lot of the vile, vitriolic stuff that she is subjected to."

The film director said she had been targeted on social media simply for having made a documentary about Omar.

"What I can say is I have received my share of trolls and garbage on social media too and my only point about that is that that's a tiny little fraction of the kind of crap that Ilhan is exposed to."

Still, "the thing that impresses me the most is to watch Ilhan conduct herself," Shapiro said. "I've heard her say the Michelle Obama phrase, 'when they go low, we go high,' and I do see her responding consistently with graciousness and staying on point."

Shapiro said that while the Constitution sets limits on politicians like Omar — for now — she hopes that younger generations will watch Time For Ilhan and leave inspired to pursue their own ambitions, political or not.

"My heart's desire," the documentarian said, "is that there will be future Ilhans who see the film, who either haven't thought of themselves in that position, or who have thought about it, but think there are too many barriers in place, will think to themselves, 'you know what, I can do this'."

For those without political ambitions, she hopes that the documentary will serve as proof of "something important, positive and productive" in politics and inspire generations "to take action," vote "and be optimistic about what's possible in participatory democracy."

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Then-Representative-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota attends a press conference in the House Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on November 30, 2018. Omar was elected as one of the first Muslim women to join Congress. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty
'Time For Ilhan' Documentary Maker Says Rep. Ilhan Omar Has What It Takes To Lead—But She Can Never Become President | U.S.