The script for Hala came to me while I was at home in Chicago.
The past year and a half, I'd spent a lot of time working on scripts with characters I liked but didn't love, concepts that interested me but didn't fascinate me. I had convinced myself that I needed to consider my audience, and in doing so, I erased my own experience from my work. My own experiences didn't seem worthy of a script. For a while, I believed that.
And then a lot happened, and a lot changed.
I had gotten my hands on the superb first copy of Ms. Marvel (about a female Pakistani-American Muslim superhero) when I thought to myself: What am I doing? Why did I get into filmmaking in the first place? The films and filmmakers I had loved drew heavily from their own experiences in their own work. What was stopping me from doing the same? The harsh answer, buried deep in the back of my brain, was offensively there: my experiences were "minority," "niche," and "irrelevant."
The first draft of Hala was furiously written in the span of two weeks. This was the character I'd been thinking of for a very long time; this was the story I needed to tell. By the time I'd typed the final words, I knew I had something. It wasn't perfect, and there were many more months of revision needed, but this was the story unique to me. Oftentimes as filmmakers we ask ourselves: Why me? Why do I need to tell this story? Why should this story be told at all?
With Hala, I knew. The personal reasons were all there. I'd been thinking of Hala since I graduated college, but didn't know how to articulate my experience. Now, having already made a first feature, I knew. Initially, I was not motivated by social and political reasons to write Hala, but it has become increasingly clear that many stories, whether or not the author intends, have socio-political implications.
American cinema lacks female representation, in front of and behind the camera. Compelling female protagonists are challenging to find in mainstream Hollywood. They are often relegated to demeaning, sexist or 'sidekick' roles that don't take advantage of their talents (though Hollywood is slowly recognizing this). In the same note, American cinema hasn't fully explored what the Muslim diaspora looks like in the United States, or the first-generation Muslim-American experience.
I didn't set out to make a film to break glass ceilings or affect social change. I hope, through telling an authentic and personal story, that it resonates with you.
I couldn't find a film I wanted to see, so I set out to make it.
That film is Hala.