June 2017 - Extras: Medical Students Learn Life Lessons on a New Mexico Movie Set
When a classmate at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) in Las Cruces sent Humza Ahmed, Haris Ahmed, and Harris Ahmed a casting call for movie extras, they took it as more of a joke than anything. Thinking nothing would come of it, they sent an email to the casting director and were almost immediately offered roles that would require them to be on set for four months. That offer didn’t fit into the demanding schedule of first-year medical students, but they managed to negotiate their participation down to two weekends filming in Socorro and Laguna Pueblo.
The movie, Horse Soldiers, scheduled for release in January of 2018, stars Chris Hemsworth and is based on the 2010 book of the same name. It recounts the true story of U.S. Special Forces operatives fighting the Taliban in post-9/11 Afghanistan. The Ahmeds were originally asked to portray Taliban soldiers, roles they refused based on their religious beliefs. Brothers Haris and Humza, and Harris (who met the other two at BCOM and is no relation) are of Pakistani heritage and were all born into the revivalist Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “Because of our religious beliefs, members of our community have been persecuted by the Taliban in the Middle East. We did not feel comfortable portraying people who have killed members of our community,” Humza said.
Instead, the Ahmeds took on roles as Afghani villagers and members of the Northern Alliance who worked with American soldiers to combat the Taliban. The three agreed to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what really goes on behind the scenes of a major Hollywood production. Ultimately, however, they said they gained insight into their futures as physicians and got a firsthand introduction to the healthcare issues New Mexico is facing. “When the director, producers, and actors realized we were medical students, they started saying ‘The doctors are here,’ and people would start asking us questions about their own medical conditions. Right away, they were sharing very personal information with us.” Harris said. “It was eye-opening to realize that, even in a setting completely divorced from healthcare, we are still held to a certain standard.”
On set, the students said they conversed about the core values of a physician, the current issues surrounding the over prescription of medications, and trust issues between patients and physicians. Harris adds that profound themes of faith and cultural awareness in medicine arose. “We’re not qualified to give medical advice at this point, but we were surprised that we could answer some of their questions based on the material we’ve already covered this year, like the difference between an expectorant and a decongestant. It was a good reminder about focusing on our studies and mastering the material, because you never know when you’ll be asked about it,” Humza added.
The Ahmeds were introduced on set to several Native American tribal members who were also cast as Afghani villagers. One of BCOM’s primary missions is to address the health needs of Native Americans in the Southwest. “We just recently moved to New Mexico, so we haven’t had much opportunity to actually interact with the Native American populations yet,” Haris said. “In speaking with them, we found that Native Americans do feel underserved in terms of healthcare and that they’ve had issues connecting with physicians and building that necessary bond. It was very interesting to hear their concerns first-hand and literally talk with them about how we can help. It certainly reinforced why we decided to come to BCOM.”
Humza said, “Just being in medical school has already given us so many memories and stories to tell, but adding on opportunities like these really enhances our experience of living in New Mexico.” While the trio won’t be giving up medical school for a career in Hollywood, they have agreed to participate in a documentary series titled The Long Road Home, which will be filming this summer.
Horse Soldiers 1: Haris, Humza, and Harris Ahmed between takes on the set of Horse Soldiers.
Horse Soldiers 2: Humza Ahmed and Harris Ahmed portraying members of the Afghan Northern Alliance on the set of Horse Soldiers.