Unless you live in Minnesota, Ilhan Omar may have first come to your attention around the time of her groundbreaking and successful run for Congress in 2018. But she made history even before that, when she became the only Somali-American ever elected to state office two years earlier. That campaign is chronicled in the 2018 documentary Time for Ilhan, now available on streaming services.
Omar herself announced the update on Twitter on Thursday. "@timeforilhan — the documentary about my first run for office — is now out on streaming platforms and is up for an NAACP Image Award!" she wrote.
As the filmmakers describe it, Time for Ilhan "shadows Ilhan and her scrappy group of dedicated campaign staffers throughout the entire campaign's dramatic uphill battle." It shows her running against a 44-year incumbent in defiance of both Democratic Party norms and her community's gender norms, the description notes.
Omar's story has become widely-known. She was born in Somalia, where a devastating civil war has been ongoing since 1991. She fled with her family to a Kenyan refugee camp when she was 8 years old. The camp — which was newly opened at the time — had poor sanitation and just stopgap shelters for residents, according to The Guardian. Omar was assigned the job of getting wood and water from nearby communities.
Her life changed in 1996, when she moved to the United States — along with her father and six siblings — through the refugee resettlement program. The family initially resettled in Virginia before moving to Minnesota.
Omar quickly distinguished herself there. After receiving a bachelor degree in international studies and political science from the University of North Dakota, she became an activist, organizer, and policy analyst. She served as a senior aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson and became the third vice president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, per the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Child nutrition, racial equality, and environmental justice were just some of the issues for which she became an advocate.
And then, of course, came her historic run for state office in 2016. Omar successfully beat incumbent Democrat Phyllis Kahn and served a term as the state representative for Minnesota's District 60B. Because she's now risen to loftier heights — she became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, along with Rashida Tlaib — it may be tempting to look back at her 2016 victory as a foregone conclusion. But as Time for Ilhan is a reminder that it was anything but that.
"I want to remind you all that what we did tonight, no one thought was possible," Omar announced after her 2016 primary victory, per MinnPost. "In the earlier conversations of this campaign, everybody said, 'Ilhan, there is no real path to your winning.' At some point, I started to believe that." But, she said, her campaign was victorious because of "all of you in this room who said, 'It can be done.'"
Time for Ilhan is up for an NAACP Image Award alongside other television documentaries like Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland. It's already won several accolades, including a Duluth/Superior International Film Festival 2018 Audience Award.