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Hollywood: Success of Muslim Hijabi Filmmaker

LOS ANGELES — With her hijab, the always smiling Muslim movie director and writer Lena Khan stands out when she walks in Hollywood; the notable home of the American cinema industry, VOA News reports on February 9.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Hollywood’s name has come to be a shorthand reference for the film industry, eventually becoming the most recognizable film industry in the world. However, it’s somehow new to Muslims.

“It’s very hard to be a female filmmaker in Hollywood, that is for sure. I think they feel like you don’t have as much authority, or you can’t command a set as much. And for the Muslim thing, I think they are still trying to process that,” Khan expressed.

The child of Indian immigrants was born in Canada then moved to the USA when she was two years old. In school, she explored several career options before deciding on filmmaking.

Result of Persistence

“I had wanted to become a teacher. You look around and you’re like, ‘Nobody learns from teachers anymore,’” Khan joked. “Sometimes it feels like it,” she added. “And at least people learn so much from movies and films, about people, about social issues, about everything.”

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Even though, Khan’s decision to pursue a career of writing and filmmaking sparked some criticism and stereotypes. “When I was starting out, people in the community, South Asians most of all, they’re like, ‘Why are you entering such a stupid career?’”

Because of her persistence, Khan successfully made her first movie ‘The Tiger Hunter’ which she co-wrote and directed in 2017. It’s a comedy film that talks about the experience of an Indian immigrant to the USA.

“The Muslim ban happened right when the movie came out,” she said, referring to President Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily barred people from seven countries, most with a predominantly Muslim population, from entering the U.S. “That was never intended. It’s not a good thing, but it became very, very relevant.”

Opening New Doors

With her movie, Khan was able to open doors that she never had. She’s now working on a TV comedy and directing a movie for Disney. But i won’t compromise who i’m. I just create my own path.

“I’m not going to hang out in a bar until 2 a.m., which sometimes a lot of business gets done that way, and sometimes meeting those people on TV that you need to meet. So, you kind of have to make up for it in other ways,” she said. “For me, I’ve always had to make up for it, part of it. That’s how I started making my own movies.”

Talking about stereotypes about her in the industry circles, Khan said: “The first thing when you walk into a room in a lot of places is them kind of looking at your head — sort of just a quick eye-glance over there. And then, when you say things like how I play the drums, and they were just very shocked,” she said. “They want people who they feel like they can hang out with that are part of their club. And you really don’t look like you’re a part of their club.”

Despite all of this, the Muslim movie maker said: “I like what I’m doing. I feel like it has some value. It’s incredibly fun. Then, I’m also a faithful person, whereas it’s always for me, it’s about sort of like how you went about your day, and kind of what you tried, and the results are up to Allah.”