Leah Williams has worn many hats in her professional life. Now, she’s looking to add another: documentarian.
Williams, a 2006 Troy University graduate with a degree in communications, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund a pilot episode of a documentary series called American Immigrant Stories.
Since leaving the Troy Campus, Williams has worked as an advertiser, a secretary, a missionary, an actor and a consultant, but now she’s found a new passion in telling the stories of immigrants and refugees.
While still running her consulting business, Swellslide, in New York City, Williams plans to shed light on the stories of women who have overcome significant obstacles to pursue the American dream.
“New York alone has so many people from all over the world, immigrants here who have such amazing stories,” Williams said. “Having grown up in Alabama, I never experienced a lot of them — people who come from backgrounds with dictators and communism and bombs everywhere. Most of us don’t have that experience. We were privileged to not grow up that way. I had a skewed version of reality until I moved to the big city in New York.”
Williams wants to document the stories of women like her friend, Behnaz, who grew up under the oppressive rule of the Iranian government.
“In America, women still have a really hard time getting ahead, but in other countries women are viewed as property,” Williams said. “Through hearing these stories and hearing their passion, you realize they overcame so much just to get to a safe place. I want these videos to help humanize this group of people.”
She said the documentary sheds light on how the recent travel ban affected Behnaz.
“She came here with high hopes leaving a dictatorship, and then when the government enacted the travel ban, she was so fearful that this was same thing happening again, and she just wanted to leave,” Williams said. “Once she saw all these organizations coming to rescue people who were imprisoned, and when she saw protestors weren’t being arrested for protesting as they were in Iran, she felt so much more at ease. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are to live here.”
Williams is seeking crowd funding to support the filming of a pilot episode that she hopes to pitch to networks.
If funded, the episode will debut on YouTube and, she hopes, lead to a full series pickup.
“I wanted to start with something small, a pilot episode,” Williams said. “I want to create a really awesome pilot episode that is not just me and a camera. I’ve got an amazing crew. I can then pitch to a media organization to fund into an actual series. I feel if I make it on a small budget, it may not be taken as seriously. Eventually I’d like it to be on Netflix.”
She isn’t intending the series to be political, but rather to shine a light on people whose stories she feels are overlooked.
“The point is not to shake my finger at people or make a political statement, it’s just sharing someone’s story and, through their story, maybe that can stir people to action or at least change someone’s outlook,” Williams said. “I want to bring more compassion to them and not fear or disdain. They’re people who are looking to provide for their families.”