Westword: Your name has changed over the years. What is your preferred first name?
Miguel Ali: I usually go by Ali. I changed my name to Miguel Ali. My birth certificate name is Muhammad Ali Hasan. I became an advocate for a lot of Muslim issues, and I purposely used the name Muhammad. I feel like I did a good job speaking on behalf of Muslims. I felt like we should come together more as a society and see if we could find more in common rather than look at differences.
I found out that I had Spanish heritage and that my family were Jews kicked out of Spain. The main activist who campaigned against the Spanish Inquisition was Miguel de Luna, so in solidarity with all the Jews and Muslims who were kicked out of Spain and in recognition of that heritage, I added the name Miguel to my name and started going by Miguel Ali.
Gandhi said: "When you want to create a difference, you should live it." That's my way of making a difference and showing people that we can get along.
Talk about your history doing political work and what moved you to make movies?
I'm very proud of my history. I feel like I've accomplished a lot, and more than that, I feel like I've learned a lot.
Making movies was my first passion; politics was a fun diversion. I was getting my masters degree in film directing at Chapman University. I graduated there in 2007, and my mentor was a man by the name of John Badham. He directed Saturday Night Fever and Short Circuit. A couple weeks before graduation, I asked him: "What should I do? Should I write movies or work for a production company?"
He said to me: "You need to go out and get life experience. That life experience is going to make you a better director. You can return to filmmaking understanding a bigger palette of emotion."
Based on that advice, I decided to move back to Colorado and get back in touch with my family. At the time, I was a Republican living in Eagle County. The Republicans caught wind of that. They were excited that I was young and that I was an expert snowboarder. They didn't have a candidate running for House District 56, which was a very Democratic district. They said: "We'll put all the support behind you that we can. We'd love for you to run."
I thought, that will be a fun way to get life experience. I went ahead and took that run on and almost won. I didn't win, but almost. I had a lot that I still wanted to say, and that's what motivated me to do the state treasurer run in 2010. That race wasn't as successful, but I'm still proud of it.
I'd knocked on more than 20,000 doors all over Colorado; I'd traveled so much and met so many people and realized that I had this basic understanding of so many different kinds of people and their personalities. I had a much deeper understanding of people than I had when I was in film school. At that point, I said, I'm ready to move back to Los Angeles. I think I can go find financing. I can write a good script. I can get my first feature film done. If that film does well, that's just going to spark my career.
I should probably stress that I am a Democrat now. I am a fiscal conservative. Me and Douglas Bruce were the two biggest fiscal conservatives in Colorado. We were no-compromise to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. I'm still like that, in terms of fiscal issues. I was always pro-gay marriage. If you look at the 2008 race, I was the only candidate in Colorado who was pro-gay marriage and pro-amnesty for undocumented immigrants. That was back in '08. Now, everyone is suddenly pro-gay marriage. I was six years ahead of the curve on that one. I really haven't changed that much. It's just that I've decided to be part of a political party that values a dialogue more than a purity test. The thing I love about the Democratic Party is that more than ideology, there is a value in having a dialogue and asking: "What can we do to help America?" I realized I can defend my political philosophies. I just need to be in a party willing to give me a chance to defend them. That's what motivated the switch.
Read on for more from Miguel Ali.