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Hollywood’s First Hijabi Director | AJ+

I grew up in, like,
suburban Rancho Cucamonga. It was a lot of being bored and figuring out what to do with myself. I learned to juggle
knives, I was in a band, I did puppetry, I played baseball. My favorite movies were
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘About a Boy’ and ‘Forrest Gump’. For a lot of executives,
in the first 30 seconds, they think I’m gonna talk with an accent or they think I’m not gonna
know about normal things like, there’s this little
sparkle of amusement. “Different than what I thought a regular Muslim person would be like”. When I got into UCLA Film School, I was so incredibly excited, but I didn’t have any connections. I was just like, well, I’m gonna
try it and see how it goes. People are always
telling these sob stories about immigrants, things
like ‘The Namesake’, but the stories I grew up
hearing were hilarious. So, I was like, I wanted
to do something with that. [Movie Clip]: “Listen to me, Sami.” “To be a great tiger hunter,” “you must become the tiger.” ‘The Tiger Hunter’ is
my first feature film about a young man who comes from India on this big quest for success in America, and it was all kind of based on truth. I interviewed my dad,
I interviewed my mom, I interviewed the aunties
and uncles in the community. It’s called ‘The Tiger Hunter’ because my grandfather was a tiger hunter. He has the exact same mustache. It was all kind of based on truth. My dad, when he came into this country, all of his roommates
only had one epic suit. They’d be like, sitting in
their underwear at home, scheduling their interviews around the availability of the suit. [Movie Clip]: “Ketchup!”
“Well, I was hungry.” I tried so many strategies
to raise money for my movie. It was like pulling teeth. First, I tried South Asian doctors. And then, film school people were like, “Okay, try dentists, because
dentists have doctor” “in their title and they
wanna have that respect” “like doctors have, but they don’t”. I sent thousands of those e-mails. They’re cold e-mails. They’d be like, “Hey,
I’m doing this movie.” “I don’t know if you’ll get
your money back or not,” “but you and I could enter
the industry together.” “How about that?” And then, when my executive
producer called and said, “Alright, I’m in for X amount of money”, I think I was just jumping
up around my house. I ran into my parents’ room and of course, their response was like, “Don’t count it until it’s in the bank”. I thought it was gonna be a little movie and it suddenly became a very big movie. My sister-in-law, she’s like, “Oh my god,” “you have Danny Pudi
and all these people”, and then Kevin Pollak was on board, then Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder. I was like, “Okay, now I’m
getting a little nervous”. We had this huge crew,
everyone’s running around with their walkie-talkies,
and you look out and you’re like, “This is my set”. Like, “I’m making a feature film”, and there is no feeling like that that I think I’ve had, ever. The cool thing that ended up happening is that our crew became
very, very diverse. We had black people, we had
Asian people, we had women, we had a Sikh guy, we had Hindu guys, we had Pahari people. We came in out in 50-some
theaters across the country. Awesome reviews in things
like The New York Times. We would be playing in
the middle of Virginia and it was just such an amazing thing to see them laughing along
at the exact same parts that, like, some Indian uncle
would be laughing along with. I wanna do something good in the world and that’s sort of why
I chose this profession. People don’t usually think
this profession is for that, but it totally can be. Like, it can be a total game-changer. And now there’s people helping me, people with suits who get things done. I got attached to direct
this major Disney feature. There’s less executives
who, when I walk in, have that 30-second window
where they’re surprised by everything I say that
is not with an accent. And that is progress. [Clip]: (audience cheers)


  1. mysticblood6 Author

    Omg I did not know The Tiger Hunter was directed by a hijabi!! That's amazing, it was by far one of the funniest movies I've seen in awhile – so relatable too. Can't wait to see more from her.

  2. Diana Aguilera Author

    Go girl!!!! There is so much hate in the comments! Be happy for other people and respect others, their religion, culture, etc. To reach where she is right now is difficult and people don’t value the effort and sacrifice…. I am so happy for her! Bravo ✌🏽

  3. Sharja Jihan Author

    Oh my GOD this is so nice to see as a bangladeshi muslim teenage girl aaaa and when it showed that she's helping with flora and ulysses, I had to scream! That book was part of my childhood and I cant wait to see it in movie form!

    also 1:36 that sound effect in my left ear didnt hit right and i whipped my head to the left because it felt like something external

  4. Jihad Roshdy Author

    You making a difference.Thank you for being who u are.
    P.S I'm going to support u by watching the movie.Keep up the good work dear😍🌸

  5. Lechatnocternal Author

    This is such a helpful video for me especially since I'm an immigrant and want to be a director, cinematographer and/or screenwriter someday. Definitely will be following her work now. She's gonna become very big soon

  6. Communist International & Co. Author

    Well we Bangladeshis have Muslim Women who dont wear hijabs but cover their heads Dictator,Leader of Opposition, Major Party Chairman and Speaker of the Parliament.

  7. M.M.Ibrahim Author

    Such a talented smart lady but unfortunately she still thinks that by wearing a piece of cloth on her head she is entering the highest level of paradise..

  8. AJ+ Author

    Did you watch Ayana Ife's story yet? She became a star as the runner-up of Project Runway’s 16th season, bringing Muslim fashion to American televisions! Check it out —>

  9. Roger Moore Author

    Hijab fetish is evolving into the symbol of fascism. Women around the world in islamic countries are having acid thrown in their faces if they don't comply with the imposition to wear one. Don't glorify it wearing it or not doesn't lessen the dignity of a woman thinking otherwise is medieval.

  10. Delia Fabri Author

    How come i just found out about you?!?!!? I'm a hijabi as well, and an international student currently studying animation. I'm thankful that my peers and tutors don't treat me differently because of my appearance, but it's nice to know there's another muslim hijabi in the film industry who is a director.. MasyaAllah👏👏

  11. Jam Mak Author

    You are an inspiration, so proud of what you've achieved. Strong muslim woman with humor. I look forward to see this movie, Greets from the Netherlands.

  12. Bill Carpenter Author

    May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala grant you sister Lena more of His fortunes and blessings and may He grant us more !!!
    Yes, you do have an accent… An accent of upholding your honor and dignity by dressing to please Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala… TaBarak Allah !!!


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