April 6, 2020

Life Without Basketball

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Life Without Basketball takes us inside the world of Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. As a record-breaking high school star and college athlete, her life as a basketball player had structure and a clear forward path. Bilqis was raised to follow the Quran and has been wearing hijab since the age of fourteen. She extends this practice onto the court as well, covering arms and legs underneath her uniform and wearing a tightly wrapped headscarf. When she began her college career in 2009 she became the first NCAA Division I athlete to do so. Her story attracted the attention of national media and later, the White House. Having just come off the best year of her college career at Indiana State, Bilqis began pursuing her goal to play professionally. At this point she was informed that FIBA (the international governing body for the sport) had a rule banning headscarves from international competition. FIBA initially explained the rule as a measure to keep the game religiously neutral, and then later cited false safety concerns. The news came as a shock. Covering is an essential part of her faith and the rule puts her hoop dreams just out of grasp. As Bilqis transitions out of the world of a professional athlete, we watch as she focuses her abilities on training the next generation of Muslim girls at the first of its kind athletic program at an Islamic school. The film explores the complex world of being Muslim in America, where family tradition and public perception are often at odds. We spend time with her parents and family gaining understanding of the challenges unique to African American Muslims, especially those who have converted from other faiths. We also elevate the sometimes mundane or ordinary parts of life that all Americans relate to. The film examines layers of identity, radical change, and common nostalgia. After years of protest FIBA revised their rule in May of 2017 and Bilqis is now eligible to return to the court. Before a speaking engagement at the Global Forum for Sport and Human Rights in Geneva, Bilqis finally obtains an in-person meeting with the organization. Despite their lack of apology and willingness to offer support, she decides to pursue the game again on her own.

Filmmaker Biography

Jon Mercer is known for his ability to deconstruct a frame or narrative, finding its essential elements and drawing out the underlying emotion. Building drama, finding humor, clarifying reality – his collaborative approach draws out the best and sometimes undiscovered moments of the story. As a director and editor his work has been broadcast nationally and helped expand viewership for a number of online platforms. His films have screened internationally at festivals and can also be seen on PBS. Most notably, his editing for the documentary Calling My Children helped guide it to twelve festival wins and a Cine Golden Eagle Award.


Due to COVID-19, a virtual screening and Q&A was presented on April 6, 2020 with guests Co-directors Tim O’Donnell and Jon Mercer.