When a classmate at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine 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.
Humza Ahmed and Haris Ahmed are brothers and met Harris Ahmed at school.
The students sent an email to the casting director and were almost immediately offered roles. But four months of filming didn’t fit into the demanding schedule of first year medical students. They negotiated their participation down to two weekends filming in Socorro and Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico.
The movie, “Horse Soldiers,” starring Chris Hemsworth, 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, but they refused because of their religious beliefs. The Ahmeds are of Pakistani heritage and were 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,” Humza Ahmed says, “We did not feel comfortable portraying people who have killed members of our community.”
Instead, they took on roles as Afghani villagers and members of the northern alliance who worked with American soldiers to combat the Taliban. The trio said they gained insight into their futures as physicians and an introduction to the healthcare issues facing New Mexico while working on the set of this major Hollywood production.
Harris Ahmed says when the director, producers and actors realized they were medical students, the cast and crew would ask them questions about their own medical conditions.
“Right away, they were sharing very personal information with us,” Harris Ahmed said. “It was eye-opening to realize that, even in a setting completely divorced from healthcare, we are still held to a certain standard.”
The Ahmeds met several Native American tribal members on the set 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.
Haris Ahmed says he heard firsthand some of the concerns of this community.
“We just recently moved to New Mexico, so we haven’t had much opportunity to actually interact with the Native American populations yet,” Haris Ahmed says. “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 certainly reinforced why we decided to come to BCOM.”
While the trio won’t be giving up medical school in pursuit of an Academy Award, they have agreed to participate in the documentary series, “The Long Road Home,” that starts filming this summer.
“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,” Humza Ahmed says.