“We wanted to see characters like ourselves, normalised on screen, who happen to be queer”

BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE BY ZAHRA SIDDIQUI

Describe your film in three words!

KAUSAR: Family fun love (and then if I can throw in another, HOT CHEETOS)

Could you tell me a little about your background as a filmmaker? What inspired you to get into film?

FAWZIA: I was an attorney in Chicago, lawyering by day and taking acting and improv classes at night. I left law to do comedy educational performances at colleges and military installations around the world. Then I started writing because I wasn’t being called in for roles that represented even one of my identities well, much less all of them. In the last two years, I’ve transitioned from actor-writer to writer-director because I wanted to be involved with every part of the storytelling process. The first short film I made The Queen Of My Dreams (co-written/co-directed with Ryan Logan) was about whether you could be gay, Muslim and love Bollywood romance all at the same time. This film was a very public conversation about a very private struggle. Making this film saved my life. Because through making this it, the answer I found to my question was, “Yes”.

Could you tell me a little bit about your film?

FAWZIA: The two shorts I directed at the festival are Noor & Layla and The Syed Family Xmas Ever Game Night. The first is a dramedy about reclaiming ritual through queer Muslim love and the other is a comedy about a Muslim girl bringing her queer partner home for the first time during a family game night. 

What LGBTQI themes does it tackle?

KAUSAR: First and foremost, it centers joy and family. 

We wanted to see characters like ourselves, normalised on screen, who happen to be queer. As queer folks, family isn’t necessarily something we all have access to (which is why many of us rely on found family too) but this aims to be a story where we can have them both. We can have the person we love and the family we love. 

We also want it to celebrate the power of queer partnership – for everybody to root for Noor and Luz and to see how their relationship helps Noor grow into a stronger person. 

What inspired you to write this film?

KAUSAR: I am the baby of two older sisters, who I love and adore very much. And one holiday season I was introducing them to my girlfriend for the first time, I was so nervous. My mind went on a downward spiral of all the things that could go wrong in their meeting, in me bringing a woman home for the first time, any bumps that could take place – and that’s how the short was born! I had to write it out and get it on paper as a way of sort of exorcising it from my brain. And of course, the actual meeting between them all was nothing like that, but ya know, it was scary! Bringing someone home for the first time always is because you want these people who you love so much to all get along. 

What does a screening at BFI Flare mean to you?

AWZIA: BFI Flare is such an incredible and supportive festival. I screened Signature Move here in-person in 2017, the feature I wrote and starred in. It’s incredible to be returning with two shorts I directed to share with the incredible BFI audiences!

Who is your favourite LGBTQI on-screen figure, be it a director, an actor or a character?

FAWZIA: I want to shout out the incredible queer Muslim artist community: I love my hair twin, Tan France. And I absolutely adore the work of Randa Jarrar, Maryam Keshavarz, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Amin El-Gamal, Mike Mosallam, Urvah Khan, Sahar B. Agustin-Maleki, Fariha Róisín, Tanais, Huriyyah Muhammed, Bilal Baig, Dua Saleh, Blair Imani, Sabrina Jalees, Rolla Selbak, Samra Habib, Wazina Zondon, Shamim Sarif, Terna Hamida, Kausar Mohammed, Fatimah Asghar, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sameer Farooq and so many more. 

What is the importance of LGBTQI representation on-screen? What do you think the industry could do to improve positive representation? 

KAUSAR: It’s crucial because in so many places around the world, people are killed for being queer. It’s a matter of protecting our LGBTQI youth – telling them they don’t have to live in isolation, that they belong, that there is community. Representation on screen does that. I think to improve positive representation in the industry – we need to have more queer folks as a part of content creation at every level – actors, to writers, to directors, to executive producers. We need queer characters as LEADS in their own stories that allow us to live in humanity and dynamism – not just trauma. And we need to center the most impacted folks within our LGBTQI spaces – what are the stories of Black & Indigenous, disabled, undocumented people within our community – and use whatever platform we have to give them the mic. 

If you could have audiences take one message from your film, what would it be and why?

FAWZIA: From Noor & Layla, I want audiences to believe in and root for queer Muslim love. For Syed Family, I want queer Muslim folks of colour to see a family that is like their own and for all other audiences to connect and realise that families are families are families.

Finally: what do you think the future of film looks like?

KAUSAR: I know what I dream the future of film looks like – and I hope it looks real GAY and BIPOC-led!

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