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THE FIRST HALF OF

MJ, A NEW SCRIPT BY
WAJ A H AT AL I
A N D D AVE EG G ER S .
BY WAJAHAT ALI
----

Meet MJ. That’s the nickname of Mujaddid Alghazaly: Muslim. Yemeni.
American. Cop. Badass.
He’s a 30-year-old, brilliant detective at the San Francisco Police Department.
He grew up in Yemen inhaling 80’s pop culture and American action movies.
He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with an engineering degree but decided to
become a cop after graduation. He drives a Mustang, listens to Kanye, eats
Pakistani food and hates hummus.
He’s also the lead character in a TV pilot initially created by Wajahat Ali and
Dave Eggers for HBO. To find out more about how and why MJ was made,
please check out Waj’s article over at The Atlantic.
In the meantime, enjoy the first half of the MJ pilot as Dave and Waj polish up
the second half.
If you do enjoy reading our MJ, and you are an enterprising producer or
filmmaker, feel free to get in touch. HBO has graciously returned the rights
to MJ to us, and we’d still love to see it, in some way, on the small screen, or
any screen. For now, however, we are happy to see the first half of MJ make its
home here on McSweeney’s.
---

EXT. SHOOTING RANGE – DAY
We see a close-up of a Yemeni-American man wearing goggles, arms
outstretched, aiming a handgun toward the camera. This
isMUJADDID ALGHAZALY. He’s about 30, handsome, short hair, cleanshaven. He has a small scar on his chin.
MJ
(into the camera)

Damn you.
He pulls the trigger three times.
MJ (CONT’D)
Damn you — bastard — fuckface.
He shoots three more times. He moves his neck around in a tough-guy way. It
makes no cracking sound.
MJ (CONT’D)
Fuck — damn — piss — fuck.
We back up to reveal he’s at a shooting range, aiming at a paper target.
Next to him is a woman, about 40, with a blonde ponytail — cute, sunweathered and stout. You’d almost think she was a soccer coach but she’s
wearing a police uniform. This is SAM. She and MJ went through the academy
together. There’s a slight bit of sexual tension between them. She thinks she
wants more than friendship from MJ, but he sees her as more of an older sister,
a friend, a dude.
SAM
Wow, you suck.
She pushes a button to bring the paper target forward. We see that MJ has done
terribly.
SAM (CONT’D)
You have to pass a test to be a cop, right? You didn’t even hit the paper. Oh
wait, you did here. Once. Here on the edge.
She holds up the target, pointing to a spot where he nicked it.
MJ
I think my contacts are itchy. And it’s windy.
SAM

There’s no wind and you don’t wear contacts. But really: Who knows about
this? Does anyone else know how bad you are?
MJ
I’m done.
He takes off his goggles, hands them to SAM, and walks away.
--

EXT. PARKING LOT
MJ and SAM walk through the parking lot. It’s sunny and the sky is a brilliant
blue. We see that the shooting range is near San Quentin, a few miles north of
San Francisco. There are windsurfers visible in the background cutting across
the bay.
SAM
What’re you doing for dinner? My kid got Madden. Maybe we order some
burritos and —
MJ
Nah, I gotta do dinner at my parents’.
SAM
Am I invited? I haven’t seen them in a million years. I love hummus.
MJ
Hummus? There’s no hummus. Your kid doesn’t want hummus. And you don’t
want to come over. This is the whole family. You don’t want the Yemeni
Dysfunction Hour.
SAM
No, no. That’s exactly what I want.
MJ

I’m gonna do you a huge favor and not invite you and Tyson to my house.
SAM
Ah, chivalry lives.
MJ
I gotta go back to the station. You need a ride?
SAM points to her car — a new pickup. She walks with him to his car.
SAM
It’s weird. When you told me you’d made detective, I was jealous for a second,
but then I realized you were in burglary. I mean, does anyone know that there
are actual burglary detectives?
They’ve arrived at his car — a newish Mustang. He gets in, rolls down the
window.
MJ
You know, when I met you, you were a pain in the ass, and you never stopped
talking. But I figured eventually you’d slow down or learn to budget your
verbal output in some way. But it’s been seven years now and you talk more
than ever. And make even less sense.
SAM
I’m a medical marvel.
She does a sort of hocus-pocus maneuver with her hands.
MJ
See you around campus.
SAM
What campus? Police campus?
He laughs and drives away.

SAM (CONT’D)
There’s no police campus! You know that, right? We’re not in school? You
know this?
MJ leaves the parking lot and drives along the waterfront highway. He turns up
the music (Kanye?) and settles into a groove. He thinks he’s pretty cool.
--

OPENING CREDITS here, as MJ drives through Marin County, over the
Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco.
--

EXT. CIVIC CENTER PLAZA – DAY
MJ pulls up his car behind a young woman wearing a business suit and heels,
carrying a lunch bag. His car is following her pace, and from the looks of it he’s
detailing her. She remains oblivious for a few beats, then quickly turns around.
MJ ducks. After a few seconds, he lifts his head, assuming he was successful in
his evasion. He peaks out, but the woman is nowhere to be seen.
BUSINESS WOMAN
What are you doing?
The woman is at his passenger side window.
MJ
(flustered)
Uh, Jennifer. Hey, wow, I was uh, I was trying to park. Have you seen any good
parking spots around here? I mean, I saw you, and I was gonna ask you if you
saw any… parking spots, because…
JENNIFER
Just stop.
MJ
… because you work for the city.

JENNIFER
You think public defenders have some parking space allotment?
MJ
I should buy you dinner.
JENNIFER
You know, last time I saw you, you said you forgot my number.
MJ
Yeah, my crap-Berry – lost all my numbers.
JENNIFER
Lost all your numbers.
JENNIFER smiles and hands him her official public defender card. He rubs his
thumb over it. By the time he looks up, she’s already begun walking away and
waves her hand in the air.
MJ leans out and yells:
MJ
Oh, look! Found a parking spot! Thank, Public Defender Lady!
JENNIFER keeps her stride.
--

INT. POLICE LOCKER ROOM — FILLMORE DISTRICT
This is an ancient, humble and humbling locker room.
A few older guys are debating a trade the Giants just made.
We see another group of cops in various state of undress. One of
them,MATTIUS, is reading the SF Chronicle while sitting on the bench in front
of his locker. The other, DON, is almost in uniform.

MATTIUS
Fuckin’ Henry Hotel.
DON
That’s like Dawn of the Dead. Always comes back to life.
MATTIUS
Tainted evidence my ass.
DON
You know it’s political. You know this, right?
MATTIUS
I know.
DON
So just keep your head down for a week and your mouth shut. You never know
who’s listening.
DON gives MATTIUS a nod to look up.
MATTIUS
Look who decided to show up.
He’s referring to MJ, who enters the locker room and proceeds to his locker. He
feels their stares and he heard MATTIUS’s comment; his face tightens and
flushes. Then he notices his locker is covered in some kind of white material.
He touches it. It’s hard. He breaks off a piece. Plaster. Someone’s plastered his
entire locker shut.
He looks around and most of the cops are both amused and supportive of this
latest round of hazing. An older cop, doughy and sweet-faced, comes into the
locker room, lost in his own thoughts. He notices MJ, and MJ’s locker.
RONNIE

Aw hell. Sorry they did that.
MJ
It’s all right.
MATTIUS and DON snicker and exit. Most of the other cops have left by now.
RONNIE
(confidentially)
Rite of passage. You being so young probably added to their, uh, enthusiasm.
Wow, that’s a lot of plaster. (touching it) Jeez, that’s the most I’ve ever seen
’em use.
RONNIE is about 55, ruddy-complexioned. He’s an old-school, aw-shucks kind
of cop who doesn’t pretend to be an intellectual. The type of Irish-descended
cop who, ten years ago, might have called MJ a “towelhead” but is smart
enough to adapt to changing times.
MJ is trying to get his head around how he’s going to get into his locker.
RONNIE looks around, seeing a few remaining cops watching them talk.
RONNIE
Let’s get a hammer or something. Come with me.
They leave the locker room. The whole police station is a low- budget,
antiquated place, built into a converted grocery store. Here and there you see
signs of the building’s former usage — low florescent lights, a deli case in the
corner.
MJ and RONNIE find the supply closet. Now it’s clear that RONNIEwanted to
be out of earshot so he could impart some life wisdom to MJ.
RONNIE (CONT’D)
Listen. Some of these guys are ten, fifteen years older than you and they’re still
35s. They see your, your… (deciding on the word) promotion as, you know,
premature.

This stings. MJ’s face shows it. He might have suspected this kind of
resentment, but hearing it from RONNIE is a body blow.
MJ
Do you see it that way?
RONNIE
(hesitates)
Aw c’mon. I’m just an old guy. We’re all just a buncha inbred Catholic school
dummies.
MJ
Yeah, so?
RONNIE
So fuck em if they can’t take a joke. You passed the test. They’ll get over it. I’m
over it.
This last comment takes MJ aback — even RONNIE had to get “over” it.
CUT TO:
INT. LOCKER ROOM — A BIT LATER
MJ has finished chipping off the plaster. There’s a large pile of it on the ground.
A young white cop, a few years older than MJ, walks by. This isAARON.
AARON
Jesus, think you can make a mess like that just because you’re a detective?
MJ smiles, unsure how to take this. As AARON walks away, he kicks some of
the plaster down the hall.
AARON (CONT’D)
There’s some down here, too.

MJ stares into the locker, sure to give AARON no reaction. He breathes in, out.
Easy. Easy.
--

INT. DETECTIVES’ OFFICE
It’s barely an office. Not what you’d expect from twenty- first century San
Francisco police. It’s just a room, looking like a small cafeteria, with a few
partitions, four desks, and three c. 1997 computers. One wall is covered with
pictures of suspects and offenders.
Another wall is covered with what appears to be a giant computer printout of
the precinct’s district. Colored thumb tacks — with each color representing a
specific category of crime — dot the map. This isNOT CSI-San Francisco. This
is how real police work is done in an under-funded department.
MJ sits down, opens up a thick file. It covers a series of burglaries of nearby
apartments. The file is mostly photos of possessions stolen or recovered.
An older man walks in. This is SGT. CONROY. He’s white, bald, a bit heavy,
and intense. He looks over MJ’s shoulder for a second.
SGT. CONROY
Is that the jewelry thing? (Off MJ’s nod) This goes with that, probably.
He dumps a new, thick, file on MJ’s desk.
SGT. CONROY (CONT’D)
New one on Union last night. Just called in.
MJ
Thanks.
CONROY looks at the wall of suspects.
SGT. CONROY
So. Now you’re here.

MJ
Yup.
SGT. CONROY
I didn’t say it before, but I’m proud of you.
MJ
Thanks.
SGT. CONROY
Even when you were at the academy I figured you’d make detective. Maybe
not so soon, but— (off MJ’s rolled eyes) I’m shittin ya. I made detective at 29.
We prodigies have to stick together… Wait. You haven’t officially started, have
you?
MJ
Monday.
SGT. CONROY
So you’re here for kicks?
MJ
Figured I’d get a jump.
SGT. CONROY spends a long moment assessing him.
SGT. CONROY
Let’s go for a ride. We’ll get a statement from the new robbery, and I can show
you around.
As they get up and leave the station:
MJ
I grew up in the Bay, you know, so…

SGT. CONROY
Indulge me. Let’s pretend I know a little more than you.
--

EXT. STATION PARKING LOT
MJ and SGT. CONROY get into CONROY’s car, an unmarked American
sedan, and drive.
Through the Fillmore District…
CONROY
Okay, this is the dividing line between the Fillmore and Japantown. You know
the Fillmore —
MJ
I do. I told you—
Across Geary…
CONROY
Right, so here’s Japantown. About three blocks total. There’s maybe 300 actual
Japanese people here. They’ve got the one pagoda, though. See the pagoda?
They head uphill, through the residential districts of Pacific Heights…
CONROY (CONT’D)
This is lower Pacific Heights. Not quite fancy yet… Wait… Wait. NOW we’re
fancy. See?
The houses are huge, old, painted in pastel colors. They get to the top of a huge
hill. Here the houses are as big as whole blocks, worth $20-30 million each.
CONROY (CONT’D)

These are the mean streets of your district, MJ. It’s either old money or funny
money. (Pointing to various houses) Hedge fund, hedge fund. VC. Hedge fund.
Facebook.
They descend the hill.
CONROY (CONT’D)
Now we’re in Cow Hollow. Oop, just passed Cow Hollow. Now we’re in the
Marina. I have no idea where the dividing line is and neither does anyone else.
Maybe Union Street is Cow Hollow? I have no clue. But anyway, this is where
the young money shops. And the only place in San Francisco you’ll see people
still wearing their Greek letters from college.
On cue, Conroy points to a young man wearing a Dartmouth sweatshirt with
Delta Chi letters on it.
SGT. CONROY
Love that.
--

EXT. MARINA APARTMENT — CONTINUOUS
MJ and CONROY are walking down Union Street. The sidewalk’s full of
dressy people eating at outdoor cafes. Between a clothing boutique and an
upscale furniture shop, they arrive at the door to an apartment.
CONROY
Okay. This woman, Denise Michaelson, says they stole some jewelry and cash.
I’m thinking it’s connected to the other ones.
He rings the bell.
CONROY (CONT’D)
I’m just here for support, okay? You handle it. And listen, MJ… (jokingly
serious) …I believe in you.
MJ clears his throat.

A woman, about 28, answers her door. This is DENISEMICHAELSON. She’s
pretty, athletic, wearing Juicy Couture sweatpants.
DENISE
Yes?
MJ
Hi. Denise?
DENISE
Yes.
MJ
I’m detective Alghazaly. This is Sergeant Conroy. You reported a theft?
DENISE
(suddenly formal)
Yes, I did. Um, officers.
They all stand for a second.
MJ
Can we come in?
DENISE
Oh. Sure.
They step in. DENISE is examining MJ.
DENISE (CONT’D)
Wait. I know you. You went to Cal.
Slight nod from MJ.
DENISE (CONT’D)

You were in the International House?
MJ
For a second.
DENISE
I think you dated a friend of mine. Jackie Gillespie?
MJ
No, sorry.
They start making their way up the narrow stairs.
DENISE
Never? Not one date?
MJ
(a trace of doubt)
Nah… I don’t…
He’s deeply embarrassed in front of the sergeant, who is enjoying all this too
much.
DENISE
Weren’t you from Syria or something?
They arrive at her door.
MJ
Yemen. Still am.
They go inside the apartment.
DENISE

Yemen! Right. Wow. (a beat, during which she’s presumably thinking of the
history of Yemen and its struggles) Rad. So now you’re a detective. That is
insane!
SGT. CONROY is loving this. He’s grinning like a chimp. MJ tries to get back
on track.
MJ
So you were burglarized yesterday?
DENISE
So crazy. I was at the Triangle for maybe two hours. We got back and—
MJ
Who got back? You have roommates?
DENISE
I do. But this was with a…
CONROY
You can say “Male companion.”
DENISE gives him a withering look. He backs down.
DENISE
I was out with a friend. And when I was gone or whatever, someone must have
gotten in. Everything was locked. I always lock everything—
MJ starts walking around, looking for signs of forced entry,
anything.DENISE watches, intrigued.
MJ
And you noticed something missing when you got back?
DENISE

Not until the next day. I went to put on some earrings and basically everything
was gone. I have some pictures of some of the stuff. I wore these things to a
friend’s wedding recently.
DENISE hands MJ a few pictures showing a unique, beautiful, pink pearl
necklace, sapphire earrings and bracelet.
DENISE (CONT’D)
(noticing MJ’s holster)
So you have a gun.
MJ nods.
DENISE (CONT’D)
That’s serious. Did you study being a cop at Berkeley?
MJ
No, engineering.
DENISE
Oh. And you don’t have to wear a uniform? I never understood who got to
dress in regular clothes.
SGT. CONROY
Your friend was recently promoted to detective. One of the youngest in
department history.
DENISE
(to MJ, almost punching him in the shoulder)
Congrats!
SGT. CONROY
And detectives wear ‘regular clothes.’
MJ, desperate to get this back on topic:

MJ
The report says the stolen items were worth about twelve hundred dollars. That
right?
DENISE
About.
MJ
And the patrol thought the thief probably came through the window. This one?
DENISE
That’s the only one that opens.
MJ goes to a window that looks out on the fire escape. He opens the window,
steps onto the escape, and examines it for a second. He looks down, and up.
He ducks back into the apartment.
MJ
This go to the roof?
DENISE
Yup.
MJ starts up the fire escape. He stops.
MJ
Does this work?
DENISE walks over to the window, where she sees MJ examining a security
camera of some kind. It’s fastened to the fire escape.
MJ (CONT’D)
It’s pointing directly in the apartment, so if we can get the tape, we might have
some idea of—

But DENISE is flummoxed.
DENISE
I’ve never seen that thing before.
--

INT. CONROY’S CAR
They’re driving back to the station.
SGT. CONROY
Probably some security system the landlord set up.
MJ
Without the tenants’ knowledge? A bunch of cameras facing in?
SGT. CONROY
You think he’s pervy?
MJ
We need to find out who has access to the footage.
SGT. CONROY
Kind of brilliant idea. He rents to pretty young ladies, sets up cameras…
CONROY is getting lost in his sick reverie. MJ stares at him.
SGT. CONROY (CONT’D)
Cut me some slack. I’m in a loveless marriage.
MJ
With Cheryl? No you’re not. Cheryl’s the best.
SGT. CONROY

Yeah, I know.
MJ
But you’re thinking of setting up some security camera outside your bedroom
now.
Conroy shrugs.
SGT. CONROY
Might price one or two…
They pull up to MJ’s car.
SGT. CONROY (CONT’D)
Please tell me you’ve got somewhere else to be. You can’t spend your whole
day off here.
MJ
Nah. Gonna head over for family dinner.
SGT. CONROY
Good man. See you Monday.
CUT TO:
EXT. BAY BRIDGE – DAY
MJ drives over the Bay Bridge to the East Bay. It’s late afternoon, and golden
light from the low sun reflects off the windows of the homes in the hills.
--

EXT. WEST OAKLAND — DAY
MJ makes his way through West Oakland — some tidy working-class homes
and some desperate situations, too.

MJ parks his car on a broken-down block. Graffiti everywhere. Vacant lots.
There’s a ramshackle liquor store on the corner. The awning is frayed and
falling down. This is the GO-GETTERS MARKET. Nearby, a few prostitutes
operate in broad daylight. A tricked-up Land Rover is out front.
MJ locks his car and jogs across the street toward the market.
--

EXT. GO-GETTERS MARKET
As MJ is walking up to the store, he approaches THE GATE, a notorious drugdealing mecca right next to the store. The Gate is a high reddish fence with an
array of holes and slots. In practice, buyers slip money through the holes in the
fence, and drugs come out through another hole.
As he’s approaching, a deal is concluding. The buyer, too oblivious to know
MJ, staggers away. MJ lets it slide.
MJ pauses for a second, and time appears to slow down. We see everything
from his perspective as he takes it all in. He scans the openings in the Gate. A
pair of eyes behind the fence appear through one opening, then are gone. A
twenty-dollar bill is slipped through another hole. A tiny plastic packet comes
through another hole, low to the ground. On the ground below, a pair of shell
casings. Now, in the house behind the Gate, a curtain opens, a shadow is visible
briefly, then disappears.
A second or two has passed in real time but MJ has seen it all in slow motion,
and has seen enough to write a 12-page report on the Gate operation.
Now time resumes its regular speed.
In front of the market, MJ is stopped by a black man in a black suit and bowtie. This is MUHAMMAD. He’s got a stack of Nation of Islam leaflets in his
hand. He’s with three other members of the NOI.
MUHAMMAD
(sniffing the air)
You smell that?
NOI BROTHERS
(also smelling)

Mmmm, something smells nasty.
MUHAMMAD
Know what it is?
MJ
Let me guess. BaMUHAMMAD
Bacon!
MJ
Ha ha. Never gets old, Brother Muhammad.
MUHAMMAD
Brother Mujaddid. Here’s one for you.
He hands him one of the flyers — the usual protest leaflet advocating
boycotting liquor stores run by Muslims.
MJ
You gave me one last week, and the week before—
MUHAMMAD
And next week, and the week after that, until your father does the right thing.
MJ
(playfully)
Don’t you have to work, man?
MUHAMMAD
I am, right here, right now, working — for the sake of Allah.
MJ

Of course. Allah has you passing out leaflets.
MUHAMMAD
And how about you? One Alghazaly sells the devil’s piss, makes the brothers
lose their minds. And the other Alghazaly comes along and locks them up.
Mmm mmm beautiful. You Yemenis — gotta hand it to you — it’s a tidy
racket.
MJ
Assalam Alaikum, Brother Muhammad.
MUHAMMAD
Walaikum Assalam, Brother Mujaddid.
--

INT. GO-GETTERS MARKET
MJ enters. There’s a bling-heavy customer at the front counter. When the door
jangles open, he turns quickly and when he sees MJ, he lowers his eyes and
quickly leaves. The Land Rover outside takes off.
The man behind the counter is MO — short for Mohammed — a YemeniAmerican, about 25, wearing gold chains and a new baseball hat, the mirrored
sticker still on the bill. He puts on a big smile, papering over whatever
transaction just happened.
MO
(in Arabic to MJ)
Hey dumbass.
MJ
(in Arabic)
Says the guy working at the liquor store in West Oakland.
They shake hands across the counter.

MJ (CONT’D)
(now back to English)
Friend of yours, Mo?
MO
Just a valued customer.
They look at each other for a long moment. MJ could make trouble, but he
decides to let it sit for now.
The front door jangles again and an older black man enters and goes to the
drinks cooler in the back.
MJ
When’d you get in town?
MO
Two weeks ago.
MJ
Pop’s already got you working?
MO
Always working, man, always working. The hustle, you know.
MJ
Hey, if you talk to the dealers next door, can you tell them to tone it down a bit?
It looks like Amsterdam out there. They ever bust anyone there?
MO shrugs, laughs.
Another guy, about 24, comes out from the back with a stack of sodas. This
is KHALEEF.
He’s skinnier than MO, and less inclined to street life. He’s wearing a loose
button-down shirt.

MJ (CONT’D)
Hey.
KHALEEF
(realizing who it is)
Damn. I see a ghost.
They do a one-shoulder embrace.
MJ
I thought you were in school.
KHALEEF
School?
MJ
You said you were gonna do law.
KHALEEF
(laughing)
Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m tryin to take some classes at the local—
MO
(to MJ)
Stop puttin stupid ideas in his head. We need him here. Even though he sucks
as a guard.
KHALEEF
You know, I don’t even want to do this stupid shit. I want—
Mo slaps him upside the head.
MO

Yeah, I want a blow job and a lollipop, but you don’t see me whining! Now just
do the job and keep your eyes on the abd. (This is a derogatory word in Arabic
for the black customer in the store.)
KHALEEF
Why do I gotta guard shit when Rent-a-Cop’s in the house?
MO slaps skin with KHALEEF.
MJ
See this?
(shows him his badge, SF POLICE)
KHALEEF
Yeah, SF — “SUCKAS FRONTING AS A POLICEDEPARTMENT”
MO
With Khaleef on this one, MJ. If you were Oakland PD, then you’d be a real
cop dealing with real shit.
KHALEEF
You’d be cracking heads and killing innocent fools on BART.
MJ
Yeah, yeah, just give me some flour, gotta’ bring it home.
MO
What you think this is, a grocery store?
MJ finds some flour. MO is surprised.
MO (CONT’D)
That stuff’s probably five years old. I keep telling your pops to update the
inventory, but you know him and money. No disrespect—(calling out to the
customer by the cooler) Hey, you looking or buying? This isn’t a museum.

The man puts his one beer on the counter and starts taking out his change.
MO (CONT’D)
Four dollars.
CUSTOMER
Four dollars? This costs two!
MO
Four dollars. This ain’t 1970 anymore, old man.
During this exchange, KHALEEF has changed the channels and lands
on KTVU local news.
They’re showing a reporter, RENEE GALVEZ, outside City Hall, with the
words “POLICE CHIEF OFFENDS ARAB AND MUSLIMAMERICANS.”
MO (CONT’D)
Hey, turn it up.
(to MJ)
You hear about this?
MJ shakes his head. His mouth is open in shock.
RENEE GALVEZ
We’re here at City Hall, where earlier today Police Chief Jenny Wong made
comments that have been denounced by Arab and Muslim American groups.
MJ moves closer to the TV.
RENEE GALVEZ (CONT’D)
Yesterday, two men were arrested when the van they were driving was
considered a possible threat. It had been parked in front of City Hall for twenty
minutes. When asked about the arrest today, Police Chief Wong said this:

We see a clip of the police chief, a middle-aged Asian-American woman
wearing a full police uniform, doing an impromptu interview while walking out
of City Hall.
Reporters jostle each other, following her down the hall.
POLICE CHIEF WONG
As a matter of policy, we always investigate suspicious vehicles near City Hall.
In this case, it was a no-brainer. The men were Middle-Eastern and they were
sitting in a van outside City Hall. The van’s got Arabic writing on the side. It
raises some red flags.
Now back to RENEE outside City Hall.
RENEE GALVEZ
As it turned out, the men were from a catering company delivering falafel to
the office of the mayor himself.
MJ, MO and KHALEEF shake their heads.
MO
That is some broke-ass shit.
RENEE GALVEZ
I’m here with Nasser Khan from the Arab-American Cultural Center.
The camera backs up to include a middle-aged man in a suit, standing
with GALVEZ.
RENEE GALVEZ (CONT’D)
What has been the response from the Arab-American community?
NASSER KHAN
Well, there has been outrage of course. Clearly this is a case of racial profiling,
and Chief Wong has some explaining to do. And we eagerly await that
explanation.

RENEE GALVEZ
Thank you, Mr. Khan. Protests are planned for tomorrow and will likely get
louder until Police Chief Wong clarifies or recants her remarks. This is Renee
Galvez reporting from City Hall.
INT. LIQUOR STORE — CONTINUOUS
MO
(disgusted)
That’s your boss?
KHALEEF
What a dumbshit. Asian chick, too. You’d think she’d know better.
No response from MJ. He can’t believe it.
MJ’s phone buzzes. It’s from his mom. The text reads: “where r u? Dont forget
bring flour.”
MJ
See you guys.
MJ stops abruptly as he’s about to exit. He turns around and looks at MO.
MJ (CONT’D)
And hey. Not in my pop’s store.
MO
Wha? Whaddya mean?
MJ
You know what I mean. Don’t make me bust my own blood.
--

INT. MJ’S FAMILY HOME, OAKLAND — EVENING

MJ enters with his laundry bucket. Inside the bucket there’s the flour and some
drinks he picked up from the liquor store. The sound of commotion as he opens
the door.
The living room is cozy and personal — traditionally Yemeni. The couches
have flowers or solid colors — red, burgundy, beige. A very bright Persian rug
covers the wood floors. On the walls, Quran decorations and Quranic verses,
and a picture of their ancestral home in Yemen, a stone and adobe structure on a
mountain.
They have a 60-inch TV with two different satellite dishes — one for regular
TV and one for Yemeni channels.
BROOKS, a white family friend who converted to Islam years ago, is sitting in
the living room watching AL JAZEERA.
ZAIBA, MJ’s mother, is commander of the kitchen and finishing cooking the
meals while texting on her iPhone.
MARYAM, MJ’s sister, is the sous chef.
The tempo of the scene is rushed, colorful, chaotic.
ZAIBA
Ya Maryam! Maryam, take care of the aseed and maraq. I’ll do the kabsa.
MJ makes his presence known.
MJ
Yes, I have arrived! No need to get up.
No one does.
MJ (CONT’D)
Salaam alaikum, hey Ama — you trust Mayram with the maraq?
MARYAM
(annoyed)
When was the last time you made anything?

MJ
I brought the flour. I can’t vouch for its freshness. Brooks, long time no see,
make yourself at home.
Brooks takes his feet off the coffee table.
MJ gives the flour to MARYAM. BROOKS looks up, maybe a bit too
interested in MARYAM.
TWO KIDS run over and give Uncle MJ a hug. These are the children of MJ’s
brother YAHYA and his wife MANEEZA.
MJ (CONT’D)
Hey little stinkos.
SULAYMAN is 5 years old, black hair, bowl cut, looks like his mom. He’s
wearing a THOR T-shirt and wielding a fake THOR inflatable hammer.
MEJGAN is 7, with long black hair done in two braids. She’s wearing a
beautiful sundress.
MJ picks them up, makes eating noises into their stomachs and throws them on
the couch.
MJ (CONT’D)
(to Yahya)
Salaams, Bro.
YAHYA acknowledges — barely. He looks up from his phone while
texting. YAHYA looks like MJ, but is a bit rounder — the picture of a man
who’s enjoying family life. He does a quick double take to make sure his
wife MANEEZA doesn’t notice his texting. She does.
MANEEZA is in her late 20’s, Afghan-American, very pretty — big eyes, long
black hair. She’s helping set the meal and fussing over the two kids.
MJ (CONT’D)
Do I smell Maneeza’s Afghan qabbali pillow?

He greets his sister-in-law.
MANEEZA
I’m glad someone likes it. Your mother, on the other hand—
She gives a look to her mother-in-law ZAIBA. The Yemeni mother still hasn’t
made peace with the fact her daughter-in-law is an Afghan.
YAHYA
(to MJ)
Hey, will you shut it? I’m gonna have to hear this all the way on the drive back
to Fremont.
MANEEZA
No you won’t. You never listen. (to MJ or anyone) You know he wears a
headphone in his right ear when he drives?
YAHYA ignores it.
MJ
(to his mom)
Where’s Aba?
ZAIBA, MJ’s mom, is cooking while reading her iPhone.
MJ grabs something to drink from the fridge and gets closer to his mom, who’s
hypnotized by a text message.
MJ (CONT’D)
(very close and loud)
Ama?!
ZAIBA
(startled)
What? What?

MJ
(laughing)
Wow, you are an addict! Where’s Aba?
MARYAM passes by, puts the food on the dining table and quickly tries to
spy BROOKS, who does the same to her after she turns away.
ZAIBA
I don’t know. With his mistresses probably. Go get him and tell him to get
ready. He’s been with them for an hour.
--

EXT. PATIO – NIGHT – CONTINUOUS
MJ steps out of the house onto the backyard patio. We hear the family’s
commotion and chatter in the background and see them moving about in the
kitchen. MJ shuts the door — he closes his eyes and exhales.
The patio reveals a well-kept garden — an old tree that bears fruit, some
planted shrubs, and a nice, small vegetable garden. There’s mint in the garden
from a plant called shadhab, native to Yemen.
There’s a small shack close to the patio door with the door ajar. Lights are on.
MJ enters and sees the back of his father — seated, carefully trimming his
bonsai plants. He talks to them in a hushed, loving voice, like a doting parent or
paramour. MJ feels like he’s interrupting a private moment.
MJ
Aba.
His father, ISA, doesn’t hear.
MJ (CONT’D)
Nothing. Aba. Aba!
ISA

Hunh? What? What?
MJ
Happy birthday.
ISA
(brushes it off)
Yeah, yeah. Come. Come, look at her. Mashallah — look how she’s grown.
Mmm. Beautiful shape.
MJ
Does Ama know you’re cheating on her with … plants?
ISA
Oy!
(quick flash of anger, slaps his hand)
(beat)
Apologize.
MJ (amused and shocked at the same time)
I don’t think they speak English.
ISA (in Arabic)
Respect, ya Mujaddid!
MJ
I don’t think they speak Arabic either.
ISA
Apologize or get out of my house!
MJ
(to the plants, in Arabic)

Ana asif, habaybi. [“I apologize, my beloveds”] Mubsuit? [“Are you content?”]
(now to his father) Happy birthday. Thought it’d be wiser to give you your
present outside.
ISA
La! I’m not a child, I don’t want a present—
MJ takes out a slim Fedex package and hands it to ISA. ISA’s eyes widen and
his mouth drops. He looks up with a child’s smile and briefly grabs MJ’s
cheeks with both hands.
ISA (CONT’D)
Ah, you do love me, ya habibi. Shukran!
ISA has already begun opening the Fedex package. He takes out a notebook
where he finds flattened KHAT leaves carefully pressed in between each page.
Khat, a stimulant chewed by men in Yemen, is illegal in the U.S. ISA takes one
stem and begins plucking off the leaves and chewing them.
ISA (CONT’D)
(suddenly worried)
Does your mother know?
MJ gives a “Really, you’re asking me this?” look.
ISA (CONT’D)
She always knows. (eating the khat) Mmmm. Alhamdulilah. Ya Mujaddid…
you made an old man happy. Come, come, have some.
MJ
You know I can’t.
ISA
Why? No one is here.
MJ

I’m a cop, and khat is illegal. I can’t do it.
ISA
But you can buy it?
MJ
You want it or not? I can’t believe you’re talking to me about hypocrisy.
ISA
You accuse me? It’s your uncle—
MJ
Your brother!
ISA
My brother, right. Everyone knows what he does, eh? What happens inside his
liquor shop. The type of people who work for him. The type of women who
work for him. Right under your own nose but, no, you never go arrest him.
MJ
Concentrate on cleaning your own business first, Aba.
ISA
What does that mean?
MJ
Don’t put me in a difficult position. I choose to look away, but—
ISA
But what? Mr. Bigshot cop is going to come threaten his own father? What,
MJ? Will you turn on your own family and community? Why don’t you go
clean up your department, hunh? You want to talk about filth! They’ve trained
you well.

MJ
They trained me to do my job.
ISA
It’s not supposed to be your job! My son was supposed to be an engineer, but
no, he’s a cop. You could have been the first Alghazaly from Shayir to leave all
this… Take us away from this. And, look, what do you do?
MJ
Well, I’m sorry, as always, to disappoint you. Anyway, Ama says come inside
and get ready.
MJ turns around and walks toward the house. ISA, left alone with his khat and
bonsai, watches MJ leave, and then returns to his beloved plants.
--

INT. KITCHEN — CONTINUOUS
MJ weaves through the kitchen chaos, picks up his laundry bucket, and heads
upstairs.
--

INT. LAUNDRY ROOM — CONTINUOUS
MJ dumps the bucket on top of the washing machine. MARYAMquickly rushes
into the room, makes sure no one sees her, and quietly closes the door. MJ
barely registers this.
MARYAM
Did you get it?
MJ
What? The flour? I gave it to you.
MARYAM
No, fool, the cake! Aba’s birthday cake?

MJ is dumbfounded.
MARYAM (CONT’D)
Idiot, I left you three messages.
MJ looks at his phone. He sees three missed calls from “MARMAR,” his
childhood nickname for his sister.
MJ
Oh. Shit.
MARYAM grabs his hand, which is holding the phone, and looks at the screen.
She turns to him, triumphant.
MJ (CONT’D)
Well… you should have texted. You know I hate voicemail.
MARYAM
Mujaddid! Ama’s gonna be pissed, and she’ll blame it on me as usual. (looking
at his bucket of laundry) And hell no, I’m not washing your boxers again!
She turns to leave, exasperated.
MJ
Hey.
MARYAM
Hey what?
MJ
(earnestly)
There’s no shame in living here.
MARYAM
I’m not ashamed.

MJ
You’ll get a job. Then you can move out. In the meantime, just… relax.
MARYAM
Don’t tell me to relax.
MJ
Brooks is here. Be cool.
MARYAM
I know he’s here. (blushing) Shut up. Don’t embarrass me in front of him.
You’re such an ass.
A voice is heard from downstairs.
ZAIBA (O.S.)
Maryam! I need you!
MJ
I take it you haven’t told them about registering this semester.
MARYAM
Don’t you dare!
MJ
Someone’s gonna tell ’em soon enough—
MARYAM
Yeah, but it isn’t going to be you.
With a twist of his fingers, MJ seals his lips and throws a dirty shirt
atMARYAM.
She catches it, immediately throws it back at MJ’s face, and leaves the room.

--

INT. LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM – NIGHT
The food is now prepared and laid out on the floor in a lavish spread. The lights
are dimmed, the room warm with candlelight. All is beautiful and festive. MJ
takes his seat.
A quick look around the room at all the faces of family –- his brother, sister-inlaw, best friend BROOKS, sister, mother. MJ takes a moment to recognize how
lucky he is.
And now ISA makes a melodramatic entrance. He’s wearing traditional, formal
Yemeni clothing — a white thobe with an impressive turban on his head. A
gold jambiya, the Yemeni dagger, hangs around his neck.
The family is confused, amused and in awe.
MJ
(whispering in Arabic)
What, he couldn’t find a crown?
MJ’s father doesn’t hear. He’s beaming.
ISA
Khalas! Let’s eat!
CUT TO:
INT. LIVING ROOM/DINING ROOM — LATER
We’re at the end of the main meal. Plates are filled with remnants; a few people
are still nibbling on their food. The family is ready for dessert. We enter midconversation — ISA holding court.
ISA
All I’m saying is that a police chief who talks like that…
ZAIBA
(to MJ)

I told you this career was not the one for you.
ISA
She should know better. A Japanese lady.
MJ
Chinese.
ISA
Again Yemenis and Muslims get treated like dogs.
ZAIBA
Well, you owning liquor stores doesn’t help matters.
YAHYA
Here we go.
ISA
Again, again, again with the liquor.
ZAIBA
It’s haram! Tell him, Brooks. Tell him.
BROOKS
(gently)
Well, the consumption of alcohol is a major sin in Islam—
ISA
Brooks, you’re learned and I respect you, but don’t give me a khutba [sermon]
in my own home.
ZAIBA
No, do! Tell him! He never listens! You tell him!

ZAIBA’s phone buzzes. This is becoming more annoying for ISA.
ISA
(to Zaiba)
My love, don’t forget that Jack Daniels bought your dress. Budweiser paid for
this house. And Heineken bought that damn iPhone. And tell Fatima to stop
calling you!
ZAIBA
This is for our startup!
ISA
Ha! Your mother — the day of judgment will come before she actually does
anything with this “startup.”
As they continue to bicker, the scene slows down as MJ takes it all in. We
witness the chaos from his perspective, picking up the minor details that
everyone is missing. He spies YAHYA sneaking out his phone and texting with
one thumb. MANEEZA glares at her husband. BROOKSis playing eye-tag
with MARYAM, who gets up and goes to the kitchen.
This is something that recurs with MJ — he finds himself, even amid a crowd,
temporarily apart from it all, noticing, cataloging, calculating.
Then he re-enters the flow.
MARYAM
(emerging from the kitchen)
Okay, enough.
MARYAM brings out the Bint Al Sahn [a dessert bread eaten with honey
dessert] with gaudy plastic numerals, 6 and 3, stuck on top. She sets the dessert
down in front of ISA and lights it. The family is about to sing Happy Birthday
and segue from awkward fight mood to celebration, but ISA curtly and firmly
ends their attempts at singing by waving his hand.
MARYAM (CONT’D)
Sorry we couldn’t get you cake.

She gives MJ a look.
ISA doesn’t care. He gazes at the 6 and 3, somber and reflective. There’s an
uncomfortable pause.
ISA
My father passed at 63.
The family registers this.
YAHYA
(soothingly)
We know, Aba. We know. But you’re still here. And you will be for a good long
time.
ZAIBA takes ISA’s hand.
SULAYMAN
Make a wish, grandpa, make a wish!
ISA gives a resigned chuckle. He looks at his family around him. He closes his
eyes, inhales, blows out the candle. The room goes dark. Everyone cheers.

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