By Uzma Hasan
My biggest fear growing up was assimilation. I was desperate not to assimilate, to be different, to stand out from the crowd; as a teen my hair was the shortest in the class, I’d be listening to Prince when everyone else was into Nirvana, and later on in life I prided myself in making sure every major life changing decision was predicated on following the road less travelled. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to my parents – both doctors – when I told them I was going to make movies for a living!
I’ve just produced my first feature film, THE INFIDEL which is a culture clash comedy written by David Baddiel and starring Omid Djalili about a Muslim man who finds out that he was adopted and born Jewish! For a small, independently made movie, the press and public reaction has been fantastic. We’ve doubled our screens since opening weekend and cinemas are selling out up and down the country. But getting to this point hasn’t been easy; producing an independent film is hard at the best of times but such a ‘controversial’ subject matter? It proved too worrying for many film financiers…
But I think they had a rather superficial understanding; at its heart THE INFIDEL is feel good, funny and fatwa free. Any perceived controversy is there for all the wrong reasons. What’s really controversial and unique about this film is that it doesn’t care to assimilate. Most other movies with ethnic minority characters, from EAST IS EAST to FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, are about a minority trying to orient and assimilate into the majority, mainstream and ultimately non ethnic culture. It’s amazing to think that Mahmud Nasir and his family are the only onscreen Muslims that I can think of who aren’t battling against who they are. They aren’t extremists, they aren’t oppressed, confused or embarrassed about their identity – they are just regular Muslims. Who come up against a really irregular problem! But by showing what life is like for most Muslims in this country what THE INFIDEL is also saying is “we are here, we speak the same language as you, support the same football teams… and we also hate terrorists!” And that is pretty fresh.
So I admit my fear of assimilation was rather naive, I didn’t realise that it had already happened and what I needed to concentrate on was finding my own voice and way of communicating that voice. For me, that means who I am as a Muslim, a woman, a filmmaker and a Brit. My hope for the next decade is that the new generation of Muslims are confident enough to listen to their own voice and stop hiding behind labels that others create. Whether it’s your parents trying to define you or the wider society, the Islamic way forward is to take responsibility for yourself, seek out knowledge and work on who you are and what you have to say.
That’s the only way you can really contribute to the culture around you…
Uzma Hasan is Development Producer at Slingshot Studios. She sits on the selection committees for MAISHA Labs and the British Independent Film Awards. She is London Chapter Head of Harvardwood, the official network of Harvard alumni in the entertainment and media industries. She graduated from University of Wales, Cardiff in English Literature and went on to study Film and Literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
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