Is Hollywood Ready for Muslim Women Leads? (Guest Blog)
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Name a Hollywood film in which a Muslim woman plays the leading role.
Can't you imagine one What about a Muslim women-led comedy directed by a Muslim woman? They're unicorn-rare.
Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, there wasn't much to do. Watching film and television was the way to deal with it. Although the characters were adorable, they always seemed as predictable and mundane as the geography around me. I never thought that would change. Or that I could change it.
I am one of the first hijabi filmmakers in America. Graduating from Florida State University's film school in the late 2000s enabled me to create stories that I wanted to see and identify with. I longed for the nostalgic touch of a feel-good film, but with Muslim hijabi women as the leading actresses. I made four short films that worked great because people longed to see a Muslim women's story. They've been shown in 100 locations worldwide, been a finalist on NBC Short Cuts, winner of the Princess Grace Award, winner of the Emmy Award, and more.
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As a young filmmaker who had just graduated from film school, I thought this meant the industry was ready. But that was not the case.
The industry hesitated until recently to mention Muslim women in their stories. When the Trump administration introduced the Muslim ban in 2016, it was only then that we saw Muslim women on television and in films who came closer to authentic portrayals. Muslim women have been featured in shows like Freeforms "The Bold Type" and ABC's "Quantico" and "Grey's Anatomy", but we saw more leading roles for Muslim men including Hasan Minhaj's "Patriot Act", Hulu's "Ramy" and most of the others recently NBC's "Transplant".
This is great progress for Muslim representation. But I still wonder: where are the main characters of Muslim women? Where are the characters who represent the diversity of Muslim women in America and who really represent us?
In UCLA's latest Hollywood Diversity Report, 84% of directors are white men, while in 2019 there were no Muslim women in Hollywood directing chairs. Also, the actors who portray Muslim women on screen are not played by Muslim women. How do we work as a community for Muslim filmmakers and actresses? How do we put it in the foreground?
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The importance of being the agents of our history cannot be underestimated. Together with my American-Muslim filmmakers such as Lena Khan and Nijla Mu'min, we have been campaigning for the representation of our communities with our films for several years. I finally decided to do the first female rom-com from Muslim women to Muslim women, "American" (see picture above).
The film is a comedic yet authentic departure from traditional romantic comedy and highlights various levels of feminism as it intersects with religion, culture, immigration and the current socio-political climate. We must advocate and command these efforts to consistently represent American Muslim women in the presentation of the American narrative. I made a film in an accessible genre that I believe has a globally relatable story, with the potential to reach audiences through intersectional experiences. This is especially important to our cast and crew as many of us are women, women of color, and / or Muslim women. Comedy is often overlooked to educate the public and change our minds, especially when it comes to politics and religion.
Not many understand what it means to be Muslim in America, and we are often portrayed as a monolith in the media. I hope when audiences see authentic depictions of American Muslim women they can understand that there is more that connects us than divides us.
Read original story Is Hollywood Ready For Muslim Women? (Guest blog) At TheWrap
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