Hollywood’s First Hijabi Director | AJ+

By | September 3, 2019

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)

100 thoughts on “Hollywood’s First Hijabi Director | AJ+

  1. Peter Griffin Post author

    Anyone who believes that: ants can talk, horses can fly, and the moon was split in half then put back together- is a MORON

  2. Handoko Davidson Post author

    What the hell ?? She looks like pakistan ! Hollywood would become a muslim movie soon.

  3. Leo’s An Alien Post author

    With Marvel’s track record of hiring new comers to direct new movies, she could be a fit for directing Kamala Khan

  4. Logan Ali Post author

    but, i see hijabi on pornhub everyday
    lol,kidding,good for her

  5. Sayeola Maeve Post author

    My heart is swelling up with pride. You keep slaying, girl!! 💕

  6. Sarvagya Tripathi Post author

    That's KK Menon as tiger hunter he is very good actor hi from India

  7. Mo Poppins Post author

    When she shared her favorite movies, I knew I was going to like her. Such a bright energy and presence.

  8. Fatma Tamer Post author

    People with suits who get things done

  9. Kpru Taw Post author

    She seems like a joyful person. I hope she makes it big in Hollywood.

  10. Elite Post author

    0:23 -"talk with an accent"??? You keep saying that word, but I don't think you know what it means. Everyone has an accent, numbskull!

  11. Abdu & Victoria ElRhoul Post author

    I watched this movie on Netflix it's great. Here is the link if you have Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80202076

  12. mysticblood6 Post 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.

  13. Diana Aguilera Post 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 ✌🏽

  14. Alia Sana Post author

    I know U,I saw u in maher zain song making of For The Rest of my life.

  15. Linda Siouri Post author

    as long as the movies produced are suitable to watch .. you have our complete support 👍🏻 go girl

  16. Sunshine NY Post author

    Amazing! By the way, I love Bollywood movies.

  17. Lil jeffy Post author

    Hmmm but did u know hollywood is operated by satan??

  18. Fahima Begum Post author

    She's so cuteeeeee!!! You go girl, my heart is fill of pride 💜💜

  19. Sharja Jihan Post 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

  20. Rina Eka Post author

    I want to be just like her when I grow up ^^
    I love everything about film maker too

  21. sahil rizvi Post author

    Congratulations sister and best of luck for your future endeavours.

  22. GamingFreak Post author

    If she were white the comments wouldn't be filled with crap

  23. MUSKA JAHAN Post author

    I believe I've found my newest girl crush! 😍😍😍 Keep up the good work Lena 😎

  24. plantgeek11 lolo Post author

    Oh my God i LOVVVE her personality ❤❤ she's sooo cute

  25. مرحبا بكم Post author


  26. Star Cherry Post author

    OMG I love The Tiger Hunter!!
    Mashallah sister! You made a wonderful film!

  27. furmal86 Post author

    Aw she is so positive and bubbly. I like her.

  28. Uuu Aaa Post author

    Does she also direct the isis beheading videos?😂😂

  29. naz salabarria Post author

    She’s not great or different she’s being interviewed because of a piece of clothing. What a loser

  30. Jihad Roshdy Post 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😍🌸

  31. WHYPHY22 Post author

    shes not 1st hijabi director thats zawqa nawaz the little mosque on the prairie director

  32. Lechatnocternal Post 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

  33. Communist International & Co. Post 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.

  34. Bennett 119 Post author

    Has she done a movie about being a woman in a muslim world ?

  35. Ms Rana Post author

    Girl, don’t let the illuminati gets you. Don’t be a sellout.

  36. Kmcyo Artist Post author

    U give me hope. Im on the animation field

  37. Arcticnerd Post author

    This is moronic. Are you also going to do a piece on the first director to wear Crocks?

  38. Hamza Post author

    haha "Dont count it until its in the bank" soooo relatable

  39. curious girl Post author

    That is amazing! You rock it🌟❤️👌🏻

  40. M.M.Ibrahim Post 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..

  41. AJ+ Post 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 —> https://youtu.be/SVURoHMr9Wk

  42. Maryam Hussain Post author

    wow this movie flew way under my radar, gonna check it out

  43. Roger Moore Post 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.

  44. Nesrine STH Post author

    She's adorable I love her such an inspiration

  45. Delia Fabri Post 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👏👏

  46. Ruth Chelimo Post author

    You know I'm watching The Tiger Hunter straight after this.

  47. Jam Mak Post 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.

  48. nadia m Post author

    Shes so cute … and smart too! Masha Allah

  49. Bill Carpenter Post 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 !!!

  50. Samira Abukar Post author

    The rotation of the one suit part made me chuckle…too funny!


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