|Photo of Sarah and Amina Said, Courtesy of The Price of Honor Documentary|
It is a chilling story to tell. The film would probably give you goosebumps after watching footage of Amina and Sarah Said or even reading dozens of letters and emails written by Amina. They were two teen girls who were murdered by their own father, Yaser Said in 2008 simply because they did not want to be forced into marriages. They just wanted to be normal American teenagers and free of an abusive father. Yaser could not depart from the perception that his daughters had been corrupted. For that, they were killed. Filmmakers Neena Nejad and Xoel Pamos of The Price of Honor tells us the story.
Cast member Ruth Trotter had ongoing contact with Amina Said during the last four years of her life. Her son and Amina had fallen in love. Ruth looks back and wonder whether if she did all that she could have done to save the lives of these two young women. One things for certain, she hopes that The Price of Honor Film will ignite a moment to get the dialogue going about honor killings so that it doesn't happen to more girls. Ultimately she wishes that the father is captured and off the streets...
Women For Action: Can you provide Women For Action a little about your background and how did you come about producing this project?
Neena Nejad: My background is in photography and photojournalism. Being a woman from the Middle East, I always felt like our voices were never heard. So for me, one way to tell their stories was from pictures. When Xoel and I were talking about what to do for our feature project - we started to hear a lot about honor killings in the media, because of what was happening in Afghanistan and the Taliban. This was shortly after the movie, Stoning of Soraya which had a huge impact on me.
Xoel Pamos: Originally, I was an actor. Then I crossed over to the other side of the camera. I enjoy doing both. I always try to use art to bring about awareness as much as I can. I have been involved in efforts to prevent domestic violence for years, due to the fact that my mom was terribly abused for years. I grew up with it and I decided to take action. I will never stop fighting for women rights.
Having said that, my friends were shocked when they watched the film because they were not aware of this type of violence. The objective for the film project was to spread the word, create awareness and also ensure that people would understand that this sort of violence is not relegated to certain sects within Islamic societies, but it is occurring across the globe.
Women For Action: What was your family life like while working on this film?
Neena Nejad: My family life wasn't as crazy as Xoel's, but it was stressful at times, because I was working full-time on several projects. My family supported my decision to work on this case and they are extremely proud.
Women For Action: What were you hoping to accomplish upon producing this film?
Neena Nejad: The main goal was definitely to put Yaser’s face out there so that he’s captured and to educate people on this type of violence.
Xoel Pamos: We made the film with JUSTICE in mind. Amina and Sarah were extremely unlucky girls in many aspects of their lives, and people failed them. We wanted to make sure that we took time to become familiar with their personalities and their lives. Also, we wanted our audience to know them as two wonderful women whose lives ended way too soon, because they were taken by their dysfunctional and coward father, Yaser Said, who we hope is brought to justice.
Women For Action: What sort of feedback have you been receiving about The Price of Honor?
Neena Nejad: We get several emails every week thanking us for bringing this story back to the public eye. So far, the general response is that the film is very powerful.
Xoel Pamos: We are extremely delighted by the enthusiasm of the critics. We are receiving a lot of positive feedback. Most importantly, I believe that those who have remained in silence about this case will become empowered and moved by the film. Maybe this will encourage them to share their voices.
Also, we have received an email from the 911 department of the city of Irving admitting that Sarah’s call to 911 was not handled properly. They requested a copy of the film to train on “How You Can't Fail a Call.” We communicated with the FBI while we were in the middle of production because someone on our team saw Yaser Said. We had to share this information with them ASAP. The FBI agent in charge always seemed far more interested than Irving Police Detective Joe Hennig. Yet unfortunately, the FBI never took over the case. Instead they are assisting the local police department. Actually, I recently heard that Detective Hennig is getting involved in another project. I just don't know whether he is trying to clean up his image or finally doing his job.
Women For Action: What sort of challenges were you faced with while making this film?
Xoel Pamos: There were some financial issues. Also, I found it difficult to refrain from sharing my personal opinions especially when interviewing a subject for hours, even though I knew the person was lying. That was tough.
Women For Action: Was there anything new that you learned while producing this project that seemed valuable to you today?
Xoel Pamos: Never take life for granted because it can be taken within an instant. This story fueled me to fight against injustices. Our next project will definitely entail working on behalf or serving those without a voice.
Women For Action: Sometimes initiatives that create awareness on honor violence are sometimes perceived as islamophobic. Have you received any public outlash due to the film?
Neena Nejad: We were very aware of this which is why we pointed out the basis of honor violence in our film. It has nothing to do with religion. It is happening all across the globe, including in locations such as India and South Asia. Indonesia is the most Muslim populated country in the world. Yet it does not contain “honor violence”.
Women For Action: What were some of the costs incurred to complete this project? At any time, did you have any difficulties garnering support? How long did it take to produce this film?
Xoel Pamos: It took a little bit under four years to finish the film due to time spent on garnering funding and and investigating the case, which was far more extensive than we originally estimated. One thing that we were not aware of when we started working on the film, was that we would end up doing a very specific and detailed investigation, which added more expenses to the budget and slowed things down a bit. However, one way or another, we were pretty certain that we were going to finish this film.
Women For Action: How can we get people to connect with or care about this initiative?
Neena Nejad: We all have to do our part in creating awareness. Also I think if we have more public figures talking about this issue, the more people will pay attention.
Xoel Pamos: We hope that people will join us on social media and start using the hashtag #CATCHYASERNOW to put his face out there. We know he is in the United States and he will be brought to justice eventually.
Women For Action: Did any of the filmmakers experience any personal challenges while producing or researching the contents for the film? For example. Did the details regarding the life and murder of Amina and Sarah have any impact on you personally? Did it affect your lives in any way? If so, how did you deal with those challenges?
Neena Nejad: For me, the most difficult part was trying to understand why in this day and age these barbaric practices would even exist!!! We think that we are so advanced as human-beings and as societies, yet we threaten women as if we were currently in the stone ages!!! In this particular case of Amina and Sarah, it definitely touched my heart and still does. We felt obligated to their story- the real one. For me, it was important to show that Patricia is not the victim she pretends to be and she is just as guilty as Yaser. And secondly, the Said family knows Yaser's whereabouts and are protecting him. I don't understand why the police department never interviewed any of them. I really think the detective on this case dropped the ball- he never questioned Patricia or the Saids and he never followed up on the evidence, which was a huge mistake on his end.
Xoel Pamos: I was entirely shocked that many of Amina and Sarah's friends refused to speak with us because they were afraid. I think most people think that if Yaser was capable of killing his daughters, then what would be the fate of someone with no relation, if they assisted with the production of the film somehow.
Honestly, the encounter we had with the Said family was ugly. We were threatened when we approached them for questioning to explain their side of the story. In light of this, we've attempted to protect ourselves by revealing this to the public.
Those who are featured in the film were offered to blackout their faces. Yet no one wanted to do so. They were aware of the risks of coming forward. To them, telling Amina and Sarah's story was far more important.
Women For Action: What do you think the future would be like beyond this film? For example. Do you suspect legislation or mentalities will change? Or do you feel we are getting closer to finding Yaser?
Neena Nejad: I would like to think we are closer to catching Yaser. I think it will be a while before we see any changes in legislation.
Xoel Pamos: In the perfect world, more media and law enforcement would need to get involved. These cases would be in the hands of detectives who would actually investigate them. There is a division of law enforcement in Arizona that is currently training on recognizing “honor violence”. This is a huge step to create prevention or safety programs for possible victims. The United Kingdom has already implemented programs for honor violence and I would like to believe that even though the United States is behind, it will eventually catch up.
Women For Action: What sort of advice would you lend to girls who may be facing an ordeal such as “honor?”
Neena Nejad: If you feel as though you have been confined and restricted then this is redflag. If you have been threatened then leave immediately. If you feel like your life may be in danger, seek help and get away. Tell a trusted source or someone of authority outside the family about your circumstance. If you can get away, do so. Then get as far away as you can. And don’t look back!
Xoel Pamos: I would advise them to run away from their family and search for help from people who they can trust. There are many organizations that specialize in honor violence like the Aha Foundation. I would tell those girls that they are wonderful and that they are not putting shame on their families; their families are behaving shameful by losing out on knowing their value and worth. Life can get better and there are people out there that can help them!
|Ruth Trotter visiting the location where Amina and Sarah was buried for the first time, a scene from The Price of Honor Documentary|
Interview with Ruth Trotter (Cast Member)
Women For Action: Can you provide Women For Action a little about your background and how did you come about being part of this project?
Ruth Trotter: My son, Joseph, and Amina attended the same Tae Kwon Do studio, where they fell in love and started a relationship until her murder, four years later.
Women For Action: What was your family life like while working on The Price of Honor (TPOH) film?
Ruth Trotter: Especially for my son, in some respects (mostly the home environment), it still feels as though we are still in 2008 when Amina and Sarah’s lives were taken. We made several attempts to get past what happened. Joseph's will and desire to live again was a constant challenge. While working on the film, our home environment was like walking on eggshells. Again, still this a very sensitive subject to discuss. We had to handle everything as gently as we could. Sharing our story, treasures, pictures and just reliving it all over again, took us back to when Amina was still alive. The story of Yaser in our lives did not just start with the murders. It started four years prior to Amina and Joseph falling in love. Retelling the story of the murders just magnified Yaser's existence which brought up a lot of anger, hate, grief and sadness....I can keep going. It was as if Amina was still alive and we were going through it all over again. All the stress, anxiety and helplessness had come back in our lives again. We even relived the months and days leading up to Amina’s death as if we were waiting on her to give us the words we had hoped for, "It's time. Come get me."
Women For Action: What were you hoping to achieve upon participating on this film?
Ruth Trotter: There was a lot of truth that still had not been told that needed to be told. The film changed a lot of that. We had hoped that The Price of Honor would help bring justice for the girls and aid in capturing Yaser. We were with Amina the last four years of her life, and the truth that we shared, came from that.
Women For Action: Was there anything new that you learned while producing this project that seemed valuable to you today?
Ruth Trotter: Definitely. Actually, a lot has been revealed such as the truth about the Said's, who had contact with Yaser before, during and AFTER the murders. I always knew Patricia, Amina and Sarah's mother had a role in the murders; she had tricked her daughters to come back to Texas where their father was located. Previously, she stated that Yaser would murder the girls if she came back, yet she brought them back anyway. In the film, she amazingly reveals her character because she discredits earlier versions of her story with another version. It is very clear that she lies. Every time she opened her mouth she told a different story. It is never consistent.
Women For Action: What was it like to share your pain and life-story with the filmmakers?
Ruth Trotter: It was emotionally cathartic because it took us back to a difficult time. However, at the same time, it's provided some sense of relief. There have been positive changes in our lives, especially for Joseph. Now, he is looking forward and planning a future, which makes me extremely happy!
Women For Action: Did you or Joseph experience any personal challenges while filming?
Ruth Trotter: We both experienced various challenges, especially emotional ones. Once again, it took us back through the relationship and the the murders of the girls. Initially, it was difficult having to relive those experiences again. Though we share in hope that it is for the better-good and to gain justice.
Yet, It is far more difficult to relive those experiences through the film. It was as if we had an outer body experience while we watched the story play back. But the only difference was that we knew the outcome would be DEATH, regardless of our efforts to save Amina from the hell she lived.
Women For Action: What do you think of the final product? Do you think that the film has achieved something that was never accomplished before?
Ruth Trotter: The film in its entirety is amazing. The evidence that The Price of Honor gathered due to its years of research was brought to life and revealed to the public for the first time through the film. This was simply a BRILLIANT move. Not only did it create awareness about Amina and Sarah's true life, it also opened up a Pandora's box on honor violence which is occurring in places such as the Middle East, the USA and many other places across the globe. Due to TPOH’s hard work, these particular honor killings are no longer a cold case. Detective Hennig of the Irving Police Department and the FBI are currently working on the case. They are breaking the silence on the subject, being more outspoken and formed a coalition with other experts and officials to seek justice for Amina and Sarah. I can attribute this movement which has garnered the support of media to the workings and findings of The Price of Honor. Between a 2 to 4 year period, there had been no mention of Amina and Sarah anywhere, until now. Now law enforcement officials are taking a serious look at Yaser's whereabouts.
Women For Action: What do you think the future would be like beyond this film? For example. Do you suspect legislation or mentalities will change? Or do you feel we are getting closer to finding Yaser? Will people get more involved?
Ruth Trotter: I would hope that legislators would open their eyes to these type of incidents in the USA and they would make changes at first by educating themselves and then protecting individuals. I know that Yaser's freedom will soon come to an end because his face is being publicized and revealed throughout the film. I believe as more people watch the film, they will feel compelled to support the #CATCHYASERNOW campaign which may go viral.
Women For Action: What sort of advice would you lend to girls who may be facing an ordeal such as "honor?"
Ruth Trotter: I would like them to know that they are not alone. The pressures and abuse of honor is just the beginning. It may seem like there is no hope or help, especially if you're a minor. If the authorities fail you, then trust yourself. Violence is violence. Call it what it is...abuse, sexual, physical, mental and or emotional- it is violence. Say what you need to say and do what you need to do to get help to save your own life.
Women For Action: Anything else you would like to add?
Ruth Trotter: Yes, Patricia and her son Islam need to be questioned by the authorities. They need to pay for their role in the murders of Amina and Sarah Said!