The Tiger Hunter: Interview with Filmmaker Lena Khan

Let’s face it: there has been many a cringeworthy attempt at capturing the funny side of being a Muslim in the West. Apart from the brilliant 2010 film Four Lions, I always struggle to think of Muslim-themed comedies that actually make me smile. I was pleased to hear about Lena Khan’s project – The  Tiger Hunter – which tells the familiar tale of a young Muslim man moving to 1970s Chicago to achieve his dreams. I interviewed the brilliant and talented Ms. Khan about her project, representations of Muslims, and being a Muslim woman in Hollywood:

Sara Yasin: Why do you think making a film like this is important in this day and age — what do you think have been the gaps in how Muslims are represented in the media?

Lena Khan: Films like this are important because they show Muslims as they are, part and parcel of the world and communities in which we live. We are each unique individuals, and we each have our own stories to tell. And, we don’t all walk around praying at every occasion, or reciting Arabic every two seconds.

While there are many noteworthy exceptions that simply are not well known among the public, there is some truth in the idea that there are two groups of visual entertainment about Muslims: those that depict us as the “bad guy,” and those that go too far in making us unrealistic depictions to try to make people feel bad for us.

The former has deep and negative consequences, but the latter simply doesn’t work. In our film, we have a positive, but subtle, depiction of a Muslim as the lead character. The film is about his quest and vulnerabilities, not his faith. And that is what I think is important, and the best step toward filling that dangerous gap in how we are represented in the media. Our character is Muslim in as much Seinfeld is Jewish. Why? Because we’ve seen other groups normalized in the exact same way, and it works. Now it’s our turn. [Read more...]

Muslim Women’s Stories in the Kerala Gulf Boom

The Kerala “Gulf Boom” refers to the mass migration of a large number of people from the Indian state of Kerala to the Gulf Countries from 1972 to 1983. The movement of many migrant workers from Kerala to the Gulf Countries continues to the present day. By 2008, the Gulf countries contained a total Keralite population of more than 2.5 million, who annually send home a sum of around $ 6.81 billion (US), which was more than 15% of the total Remittance to India in 2008. And were 15 to 18 times the size of foreign exchange earned from the export of cashew and marine products. Forty-two per cent of Malayalis in the Gulf countries are Muslims.

Director Kamal, in two of his critically acclaimed movies, based on true stories, gives us the Muslim women’s side of the Gulf Boom story, from both sides.

Gadhamma (“Housemaid”) showcases the life of a Muslim woman who is employed as maid-servant in a wealthy Arab household and falls prey to Saudi Arabia’s modern slavery. Perumazhakkalam (“The season of heavy rains”) depicts the plight of Gulf wives, predominantly Muslims, who are left behind in Kerala, while their husbands work abroad.

Both the movies have Saudi Arabia, and its Shariah rule, as their background. [Read more...]

Film Review: Solar Mamas

Last week, PBS aired the premiere of Solar Mamas, an inspiring documentary of one woman’s journey to transform her life after being offered the opportunity to become a solar-energy engineer.

Rafea Ehnad is a 32-year-old mother, and a second wife to an unemployed husband; she lives in one of Jordan’s poorest desert villages. With only five years of formal education, she used to spend her days living off a meagre government assistance fund in a drafty tent, struggling to care for her four daughters — hoping to provide a better life for them. Now that she’s graduated from India’s Barefoot College as Jordan’s first female solar engineer, she spends her days trying to convince her community that an educated woman is worth the investment.

“A girl is not supposed to continue school past age 1o because it is shameful. Is it not shameful that the youth of these girls is wasted without work? Without an education or purpose in life?”

With help from the Ministry of the Environment, Rafea was one of two women from Jordan chosen to join others from Guatemala, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Colombia in a special six-month program to receive training on how to wire and install solar panels. After pressure from her manipulative husband, Rafea is forced to quit and the documentary focuses on her struggle to get back to the college and start a branch of the Jordanian Association for Sustained Development in her community — with the future hopes of training other women as solar-energy engineers.

This film not only highlights the importance of using sustainable energy to improve conditions for the rural poor, but also argues the importance of providing education to women, without sounding patronizing. More than once it’s mentioned that the reason women are accepted into this program is because they are the ones invested to stay and improve the conditions of their communities. An educated man will leave to earn money elsewhere. [Read more...]

Film Review: Unveiled Views

“When someone wants to be an artist, because they cannot let what’s going on around them stay the same, achieving fame in the world of art becomes unimportant.” –Alma Suljevic

I am a lover of all art forms, including cinema; the Women Make Movies initiative, and the kind of varied and thought-provoking cinema they help produce, has always captured my interest.

Alba Sotorra’s 2009 film Unveiled Views was a movie I could sit and proudly watch on my own, or even watch with family.

It’s a movie that makes a Muslim woman proud to be a Muslim, or most importantly proud to be a woman who is not looking to be saved by others, as MMW’s Sana describes out in her recent “Broken Record” article. This documentary speaks about women who, in spite of having undergone tremendous personal loss, retain their passions and use them to better their tumultuous world, which is in dire need of reformation.

Like most documentaries, it’s not always what is obviously portrayed or being spoken about that leaves a lasting impression on you. It’s mostly about what is happening around these women, the images that are shown about the country as a whole, where these wonderful women exist and survive. I will be referring to them as the Silent Moments (if any) in my take on each segment.

The movie is about five extraordinary women from five different countries. [Read more...]

On the To-Watch List: Braids on a Bald Head

Braids on a Bald Head is a short movie, released in 2010, by Nigerian director Ishaya Bako.  The film shows the day in the life of a poor, married hairdresser, Hauwa Bello, “who through a brief homosexual encounter is able to muster up courage and stand up to her inattentive husband and ask for better.”

I came across the trailer for Braids on a Bald Head several months ago; it is under one minute but it was enough to pique my interest in the movie.

I have, sadly, yet to find a way to watch Braids on a Bald Head, and although the film is mentioned a lot on many websites, it is hard to get concrete information about the film outside of the its summary: “a day in the life of a Hausa hairdresser and how she is able to ask for better in her marriage after an experience that questions her sexuality.”

However, I’ve been able to gather a few things about Braids on a Bald Head based on the preview and a few websites that provided more detail on the film than its summary. [Read more...]

From the unibrow sidekick to the feisty heroine

This post was written by guest contributor Nasia Ullas (@mrsmumshad).

I live in Kerala, the only state in India which boasts a 100% literacy rate, which I often think comes with its boons and banes. We Malayalees are all too opinionated, go on strikes at the drop of a hat, and discuss politics way too much. We also claim to make realistic cinema which sweeps away all the Indian national cinema awards every year.  This seems to mean that usually when a movie is made about Muslims, it’s going to be about the prevalence of child marriage, the lack of education and the ill effects of polygamy in the Muslim community. I am all for realism, but is that all Muslim women are; a pathetic lot in dire need of help?

In the popular movies I watched during my formative years, the Muslim women were the meek side kick. The one who was pulled out of college to be married off early and at whose marriage celebrations, the protagonist (usually a non-Muslim friend of the bride) meets her love interest.

However, what disturbed me most was the UNIBROW.

[Read more...]