I am not a huge fan of romantic comedies. There are a few that are great but after a while, it is just the same cheesiness.
When I heard about Americanish, a rom-com but was led by Muslim American women, I was curious.
Based on lead and co-writer, Aizzah Fatima’s one-woman show, Dirty Paki Lingerie, it’s a comedy about a family of women who is finding love and belonging.
You have the older sister, Sam (played by Fatima) who is an American woman, struggling with her career, being accepted in America, and respecting her family’s traditions.
Her younger sister, Maryam (Salena Qureshi) is studying to go to medical school and wears a hijab or scarf despite everyone’s objections.
Their cousin, Ameera (Shenaz Treasury) comes from Pakistan to find a nice, Pakistani, Muslim doctor to marry. The trick is that she is 30 so it is not going to be easy.
And their mother, played by Lillete Dubey whose husband left her and her children. She struggles to accept her daughter’s modern lifestyle and worries for theirs and her future.
Remember, this is a comedy and there are some big laughs. I spoke with the director and co-writer Iman K. Zawahry. She shared that they worked on the script between 2012 to 2016. It was a struggle between raising money, sharing the voices of four very different women, and still not isolating viewers. Then the 2016 US Presidential Election happened and they knew they had to add one more element.
Sam works for a PR company whose biggest client is a white, extreme conservative politician played by George Wendy (you know, from Cheers fame). He spews how this country needs to go back to good old fashion white, western values and to get rid of foreigners altogether.
The filmmakers had to be careful. They didn’t want to show the politician’s character changing his ways completely. That rarely if ever happens, not even in a 90-minute rom-com. But there had to be some change. The brief scenes with Wendt and Fatima do stick out so I think they did a job well done.
Zawahry even mentioned that a few viewers reached out to share they had a two-hour conversation about politics and attitudes towards prejudice because of the Wendt character.
Then there is Maryam and her goals. Despite her family’s pressure to stop wearing a scarf and of course, a stranger who just has to yell “Go back to your country!” Maryam keeps wearing her scarf. Then for a brief time, she takes it off. Not for anyone else but to try it out for herself. She falls in love with Shahid (hilariously described as if Matt Damon and Brad Pitt had, “a brown love child”). He wants a more traditional marriage where the woman puts family first. Is she willing to put her medical hopes on hold?
The cousin who came for the sole purpose of a husband finds it more challenging than anticipated. Along with her different dates and ways to find a match, she meets a charming African-American man played by Godfrey. They immediately hit it off, becoming fast friends. Her aunt has an unfortunate tendency for racist stereotypes which leads to more questions on belonging and acceptance.
There is so much going on in this film. Racism, career vs love, family obligations but it all comes with humor and grace.
I was utterly charmed by the film. I might be middle eastern, but I am an Iranian-American, Baha’i. Quite a difference between the Pakistani, Muslim family but it was still relatable. There are moments where the side characters also show their challenges with how they feel trying to belong in America.
While on Zoom with Zawahry, who also teaches at the University of Florida, we spoke about how to approach people that are different from us.
“At the end of the day it’s white men that are still at the gates of buying our films…we’ve sold out all of our shows so far (but it can still be challenging)… My biggest thing is to give opportunities to people of color and to uplift them, that’s my biggest way of showing allyship and helping and understanding others.”
In our almost hour-long Zoom session, we discussed what prompted the making of the film and the many conversations that came out of it.
She also shared the artwork behind her. The storyboards were from their film artist, Dan Schaefer. You can see more of his work on the film if you stay for the credits! The beautiful paintings are by Ameera Khan, Fatima’s sister-in-law.
You can find out about their latest screenings and festivals on their website here:
Watch the trailer here: