An alleged ethnic profiling incident at the WorldFest film festival has struck a chord in Houston this week, opening up a heated debate on security, privacy and tolerance in the wake of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings.
But as the tension between festival founder Hunter Todd and his accuser Mike Rudd continues, the student at the center of the story is giving her firsthand account of a bizarre Saturday encounter during which Todd searched her backpack following a fire alarm, for the first time.
Fatima Hye — a filmmaker and philosophy graduate student at the University of Houston — spoke with CultureMap on Wednesday to clear up some details and attempt to offer a bit of objective insight.
"I honestly don't believe that Todd is this horribly racist or evil person," Hye says.
"I honestly don't believe that Todd is this horribly racist or evil person."
"Security and profiling is a controversial topic and this story has come to show both extreme sides of the argument. Maybe I'm being too much of a philosophy student, but I'm trying to see everyone's point of view. I don't believe in racial profiling but I can understand and even sympathize with Todd's initial concerns, especially after what happened in Boston.
"I just think he reacted in an awkward way and the situation spiraled out of control. It was really a human mistake."
Contradicting Todd's memories of the incident, Hye notes that she had been at the seminar right as it started. And that mysterious black bag filled with water bottles? Her dark green backpack actually contained a bottle of Evian, a coffee mug and a sweater.
While she says the WorldFest founder wasn't exactly rude during the exchange, Hye calls his behavior "condescending" . . . but not as condescending as he was towards Rudd, the University of Houston student who stood up during the seminar to accuse him of singling-out Hye because of the hijab head scarf and niqab veil across her face.
"I think what happened to Mike is the bigger issue here," Hye says, noting that she had never really spoken with Rudd before Saturday.
"It's good for people to talk to each other in situations like this. Mike tried to reach out to WorldFest but they were rude and combative, leading him to reach out to the media to talk about the issue. Mike was really courageous to confront Todd. I'm not sure how many of us would do the same for something we felt was unjust."
Since the Saturday incident, Todd has apologized to Hye and the two have discussed things further via email.