Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Assalam alaikum wr wb. Peace and love, dear owner of eyeballs.
How do you feel about your work?
Do you feel a little desperate?
Do you find yourself developing ideas that you think an audience would enjoy, but you don’t?
Are you asking, even pining for help, networking like a crazy person, but not really getting anywhere?
This is the real kicker – do you feel the very essence of your being precludes you from being accepted?
Chances are, you might be a writer. Possibly an underrepresented and desperate writer.
It’s okay to acknowledge that.
I’m the second hijabi (headscarf-wearing) screenwriter I know about. Even in the Muslim city of Dubai, I knew only two hijabi filmmakers.
At least I know that I’m not alone. Though oddly enough, it’s hard for two or more hijabis in a male-dominated industry to stand being in the same room together. But that’s another story.
It’s hard. It’s hard wishing people would see past your unusual appearance/life-style choice/belief system/what have you and give your work a chance.
But I’ve learned the VERY hard way. It’s useless wishing. People have to break down their own barriers. People have to choose to listen to your stories. A great story is a thing of true beauty, but people have to open up their hearts enough to let it in. And that unfortunately is a choice.
That said, there are a few things I’ve discovered I can do so that a)I spare myself needless grief and b) I make progress towards getting the work I am doing to the people that would actually appreciate it.
These are the three main steps I am working on.
- Own myself and who I am.
- Own a professional attitude.
- Build a tribe.
This is going to be a three parter. I’ll talk about each one in more depth.
- Own myself and who I am.
People rejecting me is one thing. Me rejecting myself is something else entirely.
I am a storyteller. No two ways about it.
I am also a Muslim. DEFINITELY no two ways about that.
It was hard to accept myself in an unsupportive environment, where you can be one or the other but not both.
I tried very hard.
Moving physically and emotionally/mentally to a new much more supportive environment made all the difference.
A world of difference in fact. My productivity is light-years ahead of what it used to be – I am set to finish four drafts and two screenplays this year!
It’s hard enough shutting down the critical voice in your head. Being around critical people makes it SO much worse. Our creativity can only grow if we minimize and if possible, completely eliminate those people from our lives.
But still the shame persists.
I perform the job of critical mother/father/brother /friend myself.
I keep telling myself “I’m never going to be accepted. I don’t look like these people. I don’t talk like them. I don’t have the same beliefs. Gosh, I don’t drink, I pray five times a day, and I don’t shake hands with gentlemen! What are they going to think of me?”
Answer? Whatever the heck they please.
I am who I am. I’m not hurting anyone. My faith is my business. I don’t need to sacrifice anyone’s pet hamster on an altar to worship God. So really what’s the problem if I cover my head and pray 5 times a day and bow to instead of shake hands with men? (It’s archaic, but it gets the job done.)
My body. My soul. My business. Their brain. Their mind. Their business.
Once I get rid of the shame, a number of other glaring habits make themselves apparent.
The ‘victim’ story
People love hearing stories about Muslim people who are suffering because of their Islam.
Wife beatings, honor killings, rapes, suicides, persecution – all of these and more are the stories you’ll find if you look for stories about Muslims.
These stories feed social hysteria about Muslims. Worse still, they make Muslims see themselves as victims, that there is always an enemy, internal or external.
There’s absolutely a place for those stories in the Muslim cultural narrative. I might tell one myself if the mood and the inspiration takes me.
But mostly I want to write stories about hope.
Films for me have always been about possibility, not inevitability.
There’s plenty of conflict in my films. But that conflict doesn’t come from Islam.
I’ve made it my mission to seek out real stories about my community. Stuff that nobody ever hears about. And tell those stories.
This is the problem with being a screenwriter. I write the movies and then I beg for somebody to read it. And then I beg for somebody to make it.
All of that begging – not a good look.
Ava Duvernay’s recent talk at the Film Independent Forum really inspired me.
Because you see, the people that have the power to make movies may not be interested in Muslim stories. If they are, they might be only be comfortable telling the ‘victim’ story.
And if I hinge my ability to get movies made on making somebody else feel comfortable, I might find myself drifting into dangerous territory as a Muslim story-teller. I might find myself telling those ‘victim’ stories or worse, those ‘abuser’ stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to shop my work around. But I won’t cry too hard if nobody wants to bite.
I know that I’m interested in Muslim stories. It stands to reason then that the ball is in my court to get them made.
I don’t know how yet. But one way or another, I’m getting rid of my coat of desperation. I’m now officially on that ‘I’m making movies’ train.
Peace and blessings of God on you, my fellow scribes/filmmakers.
3 thoughts on “Representing the under-represented, Part 1: Own who you are.”
Wonderful article, Sabina. I’m glad you found Ava DuVernay’s speech as inspiring as I did.
Thanks Shaula. This video plus a few other videos have become part of my pep-talk playlist.