Last week I attended the Washington, D.C. area premiere of writer-director Babar Ahmed's action-packed movie Royal Kill, currently running in limited release in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. The movie boasts an impressive cast including Eric Roberts from The Dark Knight, Lalaine from Lizzie McGuire, WWE wrestler Gail Kim, and in his final role, the Oscar-Nominated Mr. Miyagi himself, Pat Morita.
It is enough of a feat to get an independent martial arts fantasy film into American multiplexes. But Ahmed, who also made the award-winning Genius, also happens to be the only Muslim feature film director working in America today.
The Pakistani-born Ahmed traces his lineage to the royal family of Swat -- a region currently embroiled in much Taliban-related turmoil. Ahmed, with his Pakistani background, British education, and American film career, provides an ideal bridge between the Muslim world and the West -- two civilizations between which lies much misunderstanding.
I asked Ahmed after the premiere if it was difficult to be a Muslim director working in America. "Making independent movies is always difficult," he said, "so in that sense I am just like any other director." But when it comes to marketing, things are somewhat different. In that realm, "name matters and if you have a foreign name there is some hesitation." I had thought he was referring to his last name but he said his first name also raises eyebrows. Ahmed says he constantly explains that he is named not after any elephant but Babar the great Mughal emperor, who ruled an empire encompassing what is today India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the sixteenth century.
Although Ahmed comes from a South Asian Muslim culture that has produced some of the world's great artistic and architectural marvels like the Taj Mahal, in post 9/11 America he is seen simply as a Muslim. Because of this, Ahmed is often asked why he is not making movies about his "own people" by those who expect Muslims to only produce works directly relating to their own community. "People are surprised that a Muslim is doing something so mainstream," he says.
There is a need in the US for Muslims to become involved in the media, both to explain Islam to Americans who need to know about it and also simply to be visible and contributing to American culture.
In the United States there is often a feeling that Muslims are "not American enough." What could be more American than an action-packed popcorn movie?
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more