Lena Khan’s ‘The Tiger Hunter’ is a Muslim ‘American Graffiti’

By Davi Barker

When we talk about forgotten Islamic history, we usually look to the philosophers and physicists of the Middle Ages. But there’s plenty of interesting forgotten history as recent as the 1970s. Pakistan held its first democratic elections after independence; Iran overthrew the Shah; women strolled through Afghanistan in knee high skirts; and thanks to the Immigration Act of 1965, which ended race-based restrictions on immigrants, the United States enjoyed unprecedented levels of immigration from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

After eight years of film-making, Lena Khan is telling the story of one such immigrant in her directorial debut, “The Tiger Hunter.” Sami Malik is an ambitious young man with an engineering degree who leaves his successful life in India to seek love and adventure in 1970s Chicago, where he deals with entry level jobs, eccentric roommates and general culture shock.

Since I saw “Domestic Crusaders,” the play by Wajahat Ali, I’ve been saying that American Muslims are searching for their “Fiddler on the Roof.” From the sound of it, “The Tiger Hunter” may shape up to be our “American Graffiti.” Lena has taken a hodge-podge of the anecdotes from immigrants, hippies, cubical workers and others who lived through the 70s and produced a representative sampling of characters designed to challenge the usual stereotypes. It has all the hallmarks of a hilarious coming-of-age story.

Lena showed up on my radar when her video, “A Land Called Paradise,” won the 2007 One Nation Film Contest. It was a simple, but powerful concept: Ask 2,000 American Muslims what they’d like to say to the rest of the world, and set their answers to music by Kareem Salama.

This project is more ambitious than other attempts I’ve seen to change public sentiment. It’s not a billboard. It’s not a YouTube video. It’s a feature length film intended for full theatrical release. What Hollywood does with millions of dollars, Lena is trying to do with thousands. As far as I know, this has not been attempted  by anyone else in the American Muslim community. But Lena intends to be the first, not the last.

Lena has launched a blog that tracks her tribulation through this process. At the end she intends to publish it as a comprehensive journal that can be used to help others get their film off the ground. It’s called “Lena Makes A Movie,” and in it she says, ”I’ve spent the last year writing a script that makes grown men giggle. I have a well-known celebrity in my cast and a producer with A-list celebrities on speed dial. Follow me as I plunder and plead to find investors and juggle the exciting, frustrating and epic quest to make my first feature film.”

Of course investors are what make a movie happen. Even a low budget film is an expensive project. Although Lena is pursuing traditional funding methods, she’s also launched a Kickstarter campaign to solicit grassroots support. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects where people pledge money that is only charged if the project creator meets their funding goal. It’s all-or-nothing fundraising. I’ve seen Kickstarter fund everything from a lemonade stand to commercial space suits.

“The Tiger Hunter” is scheduled for release in 2015, but the real work happens now. Consider contributing to Lena’s Kickstarter campaign here.

Davi Barker writes at The Muslim Agorist and for other publications. He will be soon writing a blog for Patheos. Barker was born in California and during childhood travels, he was struck by the wonders of nature — a lightning storm over a primordial desert in Arabia, or the cherry blossom petals sprinkling down on the floating markets in Thailand. He spent his adolescence as an outsider, but recently is realizing alienation is not uniqueness, but a universal similarity that crosses all cultures and religions, caused by our separation from our true self and our separation from nature.

  • Nelson Temple

    I am not a student of the Islam faith. I am American born and Christian. With world events of past several years involving those who call themselves Muslim, I have an interest in understanding what that means. When I read things like “Reading with Maryam”, written by a Muslim woman, I see a mother, not too unlike an American mother, teaching her child. I read other things from Muslims which portray Muslims as a “peace-loving” people who want to be friends with the world. Of course this is the total opposite of what I see each day in the news and what I read on the net from people around the world. I see a people who have never lived in peace with their neighbors. A people who don’t live in peace with their own people. A people who persecute persons who practice a different religion as is the case with Christians in the Middle Eastern nations now. A people who place little value on life as evidenced by the violence in every nation that has a large Muslim population.

    I think I would be more inclined to believe the “peace-loving” statements if I saw it in practice or if I heard a strong outcry from those Muslims who claim to be peace loving. I have not witnessed any condemnation, by American Muslims, of the violence and bloodshed perpetrated by Muslims in other parts of the world.

    I would like to see something more than rhetoric from American Muslims.