Talking to them, I realized that I was as guilty as everyone else in bundling a group of people together and thinking I knew who they were, when I did not know them at all.

Still, I do not believe that all women who wear the niqab in Saudi Arabia are as steadfast in their convictions about it as the women I interviewed. I’m sure many are pressured to wear it.

But in my brief peek under the face veil, I saw a human, a face, an individual, and I would not be able to view women who wore the niqab in the same way again.

That‘s why when I saw these women who wore the niqab in France surrounded by policemen, harassed by onlookers, forced screaming into police vans, taken into custody and made to take off their face veils, they were no longer just a weak-minded monolithic mass to me, they were individuals fighting for something I did not believe in, but that they did.

I felt that forcing a woman to take off the niqab is as painful as forcing her to wear it. And I couldn’t understand why so many protested enforcing the niqab, but did not object to forcing its removal.

With “Mariam” I provide that opportunity to audiences, the chance to take a peek into the life of a teenager they might otherwise judge.

And that is what draws me to film, it’s power to shine a light on the individual underneath the religion, underneath the skin color, underneath the headscarf.

This month I embark on a US tour of the film, bringing it to schools and communities to spark conversations on how to bring more understanding between Muslims and the West. I believe this to be more crucial now than ever when extremism has the loudest voice. But to judge every culture by its extremists is to destroy all bridges. Telling stories builds those bridges back up again.