Aizzah Fatima - Americanish
Written By Allison Kugel
Filmmaker Aizzah Fatima’s Talks Making the First Muslim-American RomCom
Pakistani-American filmmaker and actress, Aizzah Fatima, has managed to do what many before her could not. She turned her intimate stage play, Dirty Paki Lingerie, a monologue-driven piece about everything you don’t know about Muslim American women, into the critically acclaimed film, Americanish, the first ever romantic comedy about a Muslim American family trying to assimilate into American life while preserving their culture. Fatima’s Muslim American romcom is currently taking the national film festival circuit by storm and racking up awards.
Blending acting with activism, Aizzah Fatimah is resolute in using her film and television work as a conduit to create a new conversation about what it means to be someone of the Muslim faith and culture in America, even more specifically, a modern Muslim American woman. Her film is clearing up a lot of the misconceptions and fear-based prejudice about a religion and a people that are often misunderstood in the west.
In this candid discussion, Aizza and I really dig into the stereotypes surrounding Islam and Muslim women, modern day feminism, and what it means to be Americanish.
Allison Kugel: How old were you when you got into acting?
Aizzah Fatima: “Oh my God, I was very late. I was already in my 20s. I had already gone to school, already graduated and I was 23 years old and working at Google. You know, as an actor you start when you’re nine, and then your career launches by the time you’re thirty. To be in your twenties thinking about acting, I actually had people tell me, when I said I wanted to make the shift [into acting] a lot of people said, ‘Aren’t you too old?’”
(Laughs) It’s such a weird business, I know. But I was so excited to speak with you for many reasons. I watched your film, Americanish, twice.
“You’re taking notes (laugh).”
I was! The first time I watched the film, I thought it was a cute movie, and then I watched it again last night, and realized this movie is an important conversation starter. With everything going on in our world and in our culture right now, I don’t know if that is what you set out to do but tell me a little bit about that.
“I feel like, in some way, I’ve always been trying to do that. The film came about because I had a comedic one woman show called, Dirty Paki Lingerie. I started performing that in 2011, while I was still at Google. This film came about because I was performing In New York City at the Cherry Lane theater and the Filmmaker and Director, Iman Zawahry, happened to be in the audience the one day she was in town visiting for her birthday. She was with her family and friends, and they saw the poster, which was a woman in a hijab, holding up a piece of lingerie next to her body and she’s laughing. It is just joyful. She actually wears a hijab. She’s visibly Muslim, whereas I am not. She felt really represented through the [show’s] poster and she really loved the stories in the show. She’s Egyptian American, and obviously the stories are Pakistan-American and so the stories of the women in the play are also from Pakistan, they are immigrants, and American Pakistani women. She approached me and asked, “Did you ever think about turning this into a film?” I said, “You know, I actually have been, because I’ve been thinking about how to reach a wider audience.” I wanted to create conversations within my own community about all of the issues the film talks about, which comes from the play. Issues of identity, sexuality, relationships, religion versus culture, and what does that look like? Racial profiling, bullying. I knew I wanted to do it, I set out to do it, and I kind of looked at the play and it’s just a series of monologues. I was thinking, “How do you make this into a narrative feature?”
Was the series of monologues about your actual life, or was it fictionalized?
“No, it’s not about my actual life. It’s based on interviews I conducted within the Muslim American community, and research based as well. It’s characters that range from a six-year-old girl to a sixty-five-year-old woman. I looked at what things the characters talked about in the play, so I thought, “How do I bring these themes into the film through these characters?” That is one thing I wanted to keep intact, and another thing was I literally went through the play, highlighted all the jokes, and thought I need to figure out how to rework these jokes from monologues to a feature film, because I know these jokes land with a live audience on a stage, so I want to make sure I preserve that funny. It was so interesting that we ended up going with this romcom (romantic comedy) genre.”
Has there ever been a romcom about a Muslim American family before this film?
“This is the first, and it’s 2021!”
That’s huge that your film is the first. That’s a real moment.
“It’s a moment, well, I hope it’s a moment. I hope it becomes a movement, and I hope there are many more to come after us. That is how you create movements, it’s not just one person that does it by themselves.”
Listen to the extended interview with Aizzah Fatima on the Allison Interviews Podcast at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or at AllisonInterviews.com.
Visit AmericanishFilm.com for screening locations and tickets, and to watch the trailer.