The film industry is known for many things, but diversity is not one of them. Often, we’re used to the West hijacking Black and Brown characters and misusing their pain to strengthen stereotypes – you only have to look as far as Netflix for some insane examples.
Only in recent years, have we seen a shift in mainstream storytelling and the exhausted narratives we’re used to seeing on the big screen are now being refreshed from a more authentic angle. Muslim filmmakers are being given the space on platforms like USHUB TV to explore their creative mediums and tell extraordinary stories to bond our community together.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 5 Muslim directors who have been making an impact on the industry.
Imran J Khan
Pakistani-American Muslim filmmaker, Imran J. Khan, is a San Francisco native who has taken the industry by storm. Not only does his original work explore important societal concepts such as culture and religion, but it also embeds them in a storyline that accurately reflects the society we live in today.
One of his most notable pieces, The Drone and the Kid, which he wrote and directed himself, tells the story of a “lonely Pakistani boy who finds the camera device from a crashed U.S. military drone and is able to finally get the attention he craves when he discovers it’s still able to transmit to the American drone operator on the other side.”
The thirteen-minute short shows Muslims, especially South Asian Muslims in the West, the intricacies of Pakistani culture, and how this conflates with the perception of one’s younger self.
When speaking about Muslim representation in the industry, he told KQED that he does think it’s important for there to be more representation of minorities in the film industry.
“I think it makes a really big difference to have minority writers, directors, and producers who can tell stories about their experiences for the reason you mentioned. It shows people a perspective that they wouldn’t normally see and I think that’s really important…” he told the outlet.
Khan has also worked on other films such as Space Jam: A New Legacy and is also going to be working on the new Minions film which is set to hit the big screen this summer.
The Drone and the Kid is available to watch on USHUB right now!
Tamer Shaaban is an American, Muslim artist who uses creative forms to tell exceptional stories. Throughout his extensive career, he’s worked with big-name brands such as Microsoft, Audi and Lay’s just to name a few.
Earlier this year, he was also selected as a finalist for the Pillars Artist Fund by other notable Muslim creatives such as Riz Ahmed, Mahershala Ali, Hasan Minhaj, and Ramy Youssef.
From commercials to films, Shaaban has explored a range of mediums in order to make sure each story has the correct outlet to be appreciated in its truest form. He has emphasised that he prides himself on not compromising the quality of the stories he tells when working with his team, and ensuring that each and every decision that is made has a purpose.
“When I get a script for narrative content or a creative brief from an agency, the first thing I like to play with is representation,” Shaaban told MVSLIM. “What happens when the characters are women instead of men, what if they were Hispanic, African American, Asian or from a Muslim community? Will our audience be moved differently? What nuances exist in these communities that we can share with audiences and can bring us closer together, and how does it elevate the story or brand?
“I think these questions in themselves create newer perspectives,” he continued. “From there I start layering directorial techniques to tell the story in the most intentional way I can to bring our audiences closer to our characters. Oftentimes I’ve received messages or talked to people who have told me how they’ve felt seen or have been inspired because of something they’ve seen in an ad or film I’ve done. It may just have been something as simple as a character they relate to in a new role that wasn’t represented before, or from a story from a new region.
“The goal is to share new perspectives and spark conversation. If I can move one person and can be a part of the representation that paves the way for others like me, then that’s what matters,” he said.
Shaaban is currently working on developing a feature-length film, so keep your eyes peeled for that but in the meantime, why not familiarise yourself with some of his current work? The best place to start would be his 8-minute short titled Pause, which is available to watch on USHUB.
Meet Justin Mashouf, a Muslim artist and storyteller based in Los Angeles. His most notable film, The Honest Struggle, tells the story of an ex-offender and his mission to benefit the lives of Muslim converts transitioning out of incarceration by giving them job skills and transforming them into leaders of the community.
Watching the documentary, we’re transported to the Southside of Chicago where we meet Sadiq Davis, a Muslim convert struggling to come to terms with life outside of prison walls. But by the grace of God, he manages to do it and help others in the process. Faith and determination are key factors throughout his journey and those two ideas are also reiterated through the cinematography.
Speaking about Muslim representation in the industry, Mashouf explained how the goal for a lot of filmmakers in the community is to move away from just “representation.”
“We want to move onto leveraging power in the industry to tell our own stories, hire our own production companies, and create our own platforms. It is not enough to have a Muslim looking character on a sitcom when that show is still perpetuating the same narrative of American exceptionalism and White dominance as the status quo.
“Personally, I feel a lot of pressure to make work that is both engaging while not playing into narratives that simply work within the confines of stereotypes. It can be very challenging but it’s a driving principle of my work.
He then talked about the importance of platforms like USHUB finding space in the mainstream.
“I’m really excited for companies like USHUB which are not tied to the economic pressure of having to cater to White audiences. It allows Muslim creatives to be themselves and not have to explain their choices to people who often have hundreds of misconceptions of our cultures, practices and histories.”
Just like Shaaban, Mashouf was also nominated for the Pillars Artist Fund, and his other accolades include a Golden Mic Award and the Southern California Journalism Award.
British-Pakistani filmmaker, writer and producer, Abrar Hussain, grew up in London and attended Kingston University before embarking on his filmmaking career. Within a few years, he quickly established himself as one of the city’s stand-out Muslim creatives, later taking on the role of the Creative Director of Red Face Films.
If you’ve not heard about his work before (first of all, where have you been?) and secondly, he’s most notorious for his documentaries about mosques located in holy sites around the world.
“My work continually reflects both my faith and my community,” Abrar told MVSLIM. “Personally, for me it’s always been a privilege to be able to make Islamic themed films, without any compromise, and without watering down the characters or the stories. Film gives us that opportunity to show wider audiences that we are not that stereotype that you thought we were. We are actually vibrant, diverse, funny, interesting and amazing, you would probably like us if you got to know us, and given the chance we will prove that to you.”
His film One Day in the Haram gives us an extraordinary insight into the Haram in Makkah and has been hailed as “one of the most successful faith-inspired films of all time.” Not only did it get released in theatres, but it has also been broadcasted on TV stations all over the world, with an audience reach exceeding 30 million people.
Hussain spent over a year researching different aspects of the Haram, to bring us the most complete and compelling vision of the location ever produced. From never-been-seen-before footage to personal accounts from workers, it is the most in-depth portrayal of the holy site and a must watch on USHUB TV!
And when you’re done with that one, One Night In Al Aqsa has got to be next! In this piece, you can discover the awe-inspiring story of the Al Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem, set against the back drop of the holiest night in the Islamic calendar.
The perfect movie for Ramadan.
Akram Shibly is a Syrian-American filmmaker and producer from New York who uses his creative skills to create meaningful conversations around the global refugee crisis. After seeing the damning portrayal of his people in the media, Shibly decided it was time to re-write the narrative and give a platform to Syrian voices so they could define their own stories.
Shibly’s first short film, Heal The World, raised approximately $30,000 for Syrian relief, and gave the young director the motivation to know that there was room in the mainstream for this type of ‘unconventional’ content.
A few projects later, one of his most successful documentaries was born. From A Distance, which is available to watch on USHUB, tells the story of Syrian-American siblings reflecting on the impact of the refugee crisis during a visit to Lebanon. There, they uncover the catastrophic effect that it has had on their family from a distance.
Shibly hopes to continue to shine a light on the voiceless, and use the power of film to narrate their stories accurately and passionately, adding that his faith only pushes him to be a better artist.
“Being able to represent the Muslim community brings me great joy because I’m doing what I love to do,” he said. “Islam challenges me to check my intentions, so it feels even better to do it for the right reasons. Muslims are diverse, complicated and eclectic. It’s impossible to take on the burden of representing Islam, so I try not to think too hard about that.
“Instead, I work on practicing my own faith and believe that the practice will show up in my work. On the other hand, being a Muslim film-maker makes me a part of such an electric community of artists and storytellers, so I feel very fortunate that I can lean on my community for support and inspiration, and they can lean on me as well.
“We’re in this together!” he concluded.
And as a bonus, here’s Farah Nabulsi
Farah Nabulsi is a British-Palestinian BAFTA award-winning filmmaker and human rights advocate. Starting her film career in 2015, she founded a production company where she writes, produces and directs films, exploring topics that are personal to her including the liberation of the Palestinian people.
The best example of this is in Nabulsi’s film, Nightmare of Gaza, which aims to delve deeper into one Palestinian story, as it presents a haunting and abstract narrative of a woman living in the devastating aftermath of Israeli missiles. However, while helping others, she quickly realises that she is now the one in dire need of aid herself.
A review of the film described it as a “reality [that] reminds all of us of the ongoing tragedy. Nobody can remain indifferent to the voices and images in this film. Nobody should remain indifferent to the fate of Gaza.”
Not only does she raise awareness for the Palestinian cause through her creative work, but she is also the founder of Oceans of Injustice, which helps to deconstruct the Israeli military occupation of Palestine in a way that has never been done before. Through media tools and educational resources, it paints an accurate picture of the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli apartheid regime.
Powerful and informative, Nabulsi is in the industry to demand change.
Check out all these amazing creatives on USHUB today!