Time for Ilhan

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Time for Ilhan Movie Poster Image
Docu follows Somali American's first political campaign.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 89 minutes

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Positive Messages

Illustrates power of activism, encourages women and people of color to lend their voices to community: "It's our work to clean our world up and make sure it shines." Follows unlikely candidate as she and team of supporters are determined, hard-working, optimistic.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ilhan Omar defines herself as a "black, Muslim, poor" community activist. She illustrates power of courage, perseverance, curiosity, solid communication skills. Her supporters also exemplify hard work, belief in their own effectiveness, commitment to a cause. 


Brief footage of a Somali under siege.


One use of "a--hole."


Several brands of bottled water (Dasani, Ice Mountain) are seen in background.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Time for Ilhan is a documentary about Ilhan Omar's election to the Minnesota Legislature in 2016. Director Norah Shapiro and her team follow Ilhan from the earliest moments of her efforts to become the first Somali American Muslim woman elected to public office in the United States. Viewers meet Ilhan, her picture-perfect family, and the enthusiastic (mostly young) folks who helped her win. Though the movie begins and ends with Ilhan's candidacy for local office, it's significant to note that after serving one term in the Minnesota State House, Ilhan ran for and was elected to a U.S. congressional seat. Since her 2018 election, Ilhan has been the subject of controversy over some political statements. Time for Ilhan doesn't cover this conflict. What it does highlight is Ilhan's role in what she proudly calls "changing the demographic of public life." There's one use of "a--hole" and some footage of a Somali under siege.

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What's the story?

In TIME FOR ILHAN, director Norah Shapiro uses public appearances, private moments, interviews, and newsreel footage to tell the timely story of a "marginalized" immigrant Muslim woman of color seeking political office. With a brief look at Ilhan's background, her struggles as a refugee (with some footage of a refugee camp), and her arrival in the United States at age 12, the movie centers on Ilhan's candidacy, a natural result of her work as a community activist. Given the Democratic plurality in Minnesota's 5th District, which includes the University of Minnesota and an active Minneapolis Somali American enclave, there will be no Republican candidate on the November ballot. Thus, the August state primary is the one that matters. Her opponents are Phyllis Kahn, the incumbent, who has served as state legislator for 44 years, and Mohamud Noor (also a Somali American), running against Kahn for the second time. Against early odds, Ilhan triumphs in August, only to be threatened soon after by rumors about a second marriage and immigration improprieties. Devastated, Ilhan opts for privacy, and the film crew is refused access until the record is set straight and the legislator-elect can resume her journey to the state capitol building in St. Paul.

Is it any good?

Norah Shapiro's good fortune (or clairvoyance) in opting to film Ilhan Omar's first run for office has resulted in the inspirational story of an underdog candidate on her way to national prominence. And, despite the fact that the outcome is well-known, both the situations and the adept filmmaking make the journey suspenseful. Released in a culture of fear of "the other," Time for Ilhan also serves to give viewers an enlightened portrait of an Islamic woman: her devotion to family and community, and her faith. Ilhan herself proves to be a formidable politician despite her delicate stature, her likability, and the newness of her venture. Ilhan's kids couldn't be more "all-American" or more adorable. Best of all, the movie is a jubilant salute to the landmark diversity of the 2018 U.S. elections. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the purposes of documentary filmmaking: to entertain, to inform, to persuade, to inspire. To which of these purposes does Time for Ilhan aspire? Why and how?

  • How does the film emphasize and illustrate such character strengths as perseverance, courage, teamwork, and communication?

  • Learn more about "changing the demographic of public life." Who are some of the other recently elected officials who fit this statement? How does the inclusion of these folks enrich our political future? 

  • It's interesting to note that after serving one term in Minnesota's House of Representatives, Ilhan was elected to the U.S. Congress. Do you feel that she gave herself a chance to fulfill her promises of 2016 to her electorate in state affairs? Or do you agree with her that it was important to take her message to the larger national stage? 

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