Lena Khan is a 24 year old independent filmmaker from California. She’s smart, talented, and is paving the way for Muslim women in the film industry.
Hijabtrendz recently had the chance to catch up with her and talk about her latest project and how she got her start in film.
Hijabtrendz: What made you decide to become a filmmaker? Where did you go to school and what did you major in?
Lena Khan:I went into college thinking I wanted to be a professor. Just before finishing undergrad I got a feeling that there was such a large bulk of America that received most of their education on the world and social issues not from professors but from movies.
I had already known and had regularly bemoaned the portrayal of Muslims in cinema, whether it was in “The Siege” where a man is obviously shown making wudu` (ritual ablution) before hijacking a plane, or in “Black Hawk Down” where militants and “enemies” are shown while the call to prayer rings in the background.
I figured instead of complaining about it I would just be the one to make the movies myself and educate the public through films that entertain but have a message.
So after I received my bachelors degrees in political science and history I went to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Hijabtrendz: Did you find it hard as a Muslim or as a woman to enter the field?
Lena Khan: Entering the field as a woman and as a Muslim definitely comes with its share of obstacles. Whether at my previous production job or even as a filmmaker, there are so many moral dilemmas that come with the territory.
Will I feel okay green-lighting a script that is a high quality piece but that has licentious scenes in it or demeans Muslims? These sorts of questions often come into play and I find myself constantly having to evaluate my own position.
Also, there is some reserve in hiring a Muslim. When I would interview for a position, sometimes it would be clear that they viewed me as a foreigner, and I would have to prove that I also like movies and am well versed in them and the industry.
Aside from such things, I must say it has not been as much a barrier as expected. Sometimes, it’s actually a blessing. Unlike others in my classes or my colleagues now, I have a community who supports me and helps me to some extent. Being familiar with the trials and issues of the Muslim community, I also have a lot of things to say.
Hijabtrendz: Was your family supportive of your decision?
Lena Khan: My family at first was hesitant but then they were quite supportive.
Hijabtrendz: I believe you’re from California, is that area of the country very hard to make it as a filmmaker?
Lena Khan: It’s hard to make it anywhere as a filmmaker. It’s actually a bit easier in California because there are so many others to work with. It’s extremely difficult to make a film alone.
Hijabtrendz: What are some of the highlights of your career?
Lena Khan: My last film, “A Land Called Paradise,” is definitely one of them. The highlight was opening my email and seeing the dozens of emails from people personally affected by the film. To me, that is what the power of film is if it is used properly.
Hijabtrendz: What would your advice be to aspiring filmmakers?
Lena Khan: Make films. Find what it is that you are passionate about, and make a film. Don’t wait and think that you have to have more money, or first you must graduate from film school, or that first you must be hired. If there is anything that will get you going in the right direction, it’s just making a film. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reason, pick up a pen, and write something inspiring or meaningful. Then make it happen.
Hijabtrendz: You have produced several short political pieces for the upcoming presidential election, what inspired you to do so?
Lena Khan: At first, I didn’t actually want to do the project, because I didn’t want to throw all my support so enthusiastically behind Barack Obama (D-IL). But I keep up with the news, and it just kept becoming more and more clear how horrible of a man John McCain (R-AZ) is; how much he will do to destroy this country; and the extent that he will damage any policy, land, or issue that is important to Muslims.
Hijabtrendz:The films seem to only promote one particular candidate, as a filmmaker how do you balance bias, or is it OK to take a side?
Lena Khan: I personally don’t think a piece of art needs to be objective. A piece of art (which film is) is meant to express what’s in the heart, or it starts in the heart. I started this project because my heart hurt thinking how one candidate could hurt so many things for so many people. The commercials were an expression of that idea, in comedic form. So yes, I think it’s okay to take a side. The news is meant to be objective; art gets to do whatever the artist wants!
Hijabtrendz: Can people forward these films to others (i.e. via email or blogs?)
Lena Khan: I would absolutely love it if people forwarded these films.
Hijabtrendz: Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think people should know about you or the film industry?
Lena Khan: Hey, I’m always looking for funding and a good idea. So if you have either, feel free to drop me a line!
To see more of Lena Khan’s films go here.
Want to read more posts like this? Click on Hijabtrendz Exclusives for the full collection.
(c) Hijabtrendz.com 2008 All Rights Reserved.