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Over 100 writers, producers and filmmakers packed a large conference room at the Writer’s Guild headquarters on Thursday night to participate in the panel on Black Muslim Narratives in Entertainment, hosted by the Muslim Public Affair Council’s Hollywood bureau and The Writer’s Guild Foundation.
The panel was moderated by Margari Hill, the executive director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and featured directors Qasim Basir, Nijla Mu’min, Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbar and actress and comedian Travina Springer.
The event was organized by Sue Obeidi, the director of MPAC’s Hollywood bureau, in collaboration with the WGA, and she spoke to THR before the event about the importance of utilizing the power of Hollywood and culture to change negative perceptions of the Muslim community.
“The purpose of the evening is to make sure that we are constantly talking about narratives of under-served communities, underrepresented communities,” she said. “There’s no more powerful tool than pop culture to change hearts and minds. When we watch television and film, the black Muslim community is really not represented, so we thought, ‘Why not have a conversation about this particular community?’”
Despite years of negative portrayals of Muslims on both film and TV, Springer told THR that a recent spate of film and television projects created by and about black Muslims, such as screenwriter Mara Brock Akil, has given her hope for the future.
“I do think that this is a time of flowering, which for me as an organization that really agitated for this change five years ago, I’m feeling like this is a win for us and that black Muslim narratives are resonating — people are asking for that, so I’m very excited.”
The panel was a spirited one, and while the participants did express optimism for progress that had been made, they also acknowledged frustration at too often being seen as filmmakers who can only tell their own stories.
“There’s a reason that there’s a gap between one of my films to the next, and some of it is that people just don’t see you as people who can tell mainstream stories,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
Every panelist acknowledged that there are still great challenges facing almost all black Muslim filmmakers and creatives, but Basir did acknowledge that he felt that there had recently been a shift in the industry and that some of the roadblocks that had held them back were slowly being lifted.
“I literally see this shift happening that didn’t just happen. It happened because people fought for it. People literally said ‘no, we’re not just going to keep watching these things,’” he said. “People stood up and for years and years they said we want to see something different. We want to see ourselves. And they tried and failed many times but all of the sudden this tipping point began to happen, maybe five or six years ago, where people started saying, ‘alright, we’re going to give you that chance, and you started to see shows and movies that you would never have seen just 12 or 13 years ago.”
Following the panel there was a reception, where the panelists and audience were able to discuss how to continue to chart a way forward for black Muslim talent in Hollywood.
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