You read about the problems, seldom do you hear about the potential solutions.
Islamophobia is the phrase coined to describe the hatred towards Muslims and the religion they live by. Freesia is the soon-to-be released feature film produced by award-winning writer/director, Conor Ibrahiem, who is the founder of theatre company and Social Enterprise, Arakan Creative. Established in 2009, it was conceived out of the need to tackle the negative stereotypes of Muslims and Islam, and has already looked at the meaning of the Hijaab (headscarf), extremism, mental health and even what life is like on White council estates. Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation as part of a three-year
Funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation as part of a three-year programme to tackle racial injustice, Arakan’s first venture into feature filmmaking is a multi-narrative tale comprising of three interweaving stories, which looks at mosques, women’s rights and the far-right.
Originally conceived as three short films, the idea grew into a daring and challenging task with a modest budget and shot over a grueling thirteen-day production period in Bradford, Leeds and Keighley (West Yorkshire). Thirty-four actors, fifteen crew members and one pet rabbit later, fueled on complimentary panini’s and French fries, the team managed to pull it off and have produced the first UK film of its kind.
Securing Aqib Khan from British Asian film ‘West is West’ in a leading role put the wind in their sails and Freesia is now aiming to punch above its weight with its 2017 cinematic release.
The film has secured 14 official selections with international film festivals, and is going on to achieve 3 awards and 5 nominations in film festivals worldwide.
A word from the Director Conor Ibraheim
In 2009 I founded Arakan Creative, an Islamic theatre company and Social Enterprise based in Bradford, England. The main focus of our stories is to shine a positive light on our faith and encourage humanity towards positive change. We’ve produced some great projects, had real impact and been blessed with a few awards along the way.
We are now entering a new phase – movies, and comic books. While Western flicks are excellent in terms of storytelling, special effects and consumer engagement, when it comes to Muslims we remain the no.1 bad guys. We hoped Hollywood might change… but Holly-wouldn’t. Now the time has come for us to pick up the camera to produce films that speak for us and are led by us. One must ask – where are the historical epics about Salahuddin or Al Hazen, or the stories that look at the rich history of Islam? And what about some more Muslim/BME superheroes? These ideas are out there – and they’re not in a galaxy far, far away, but buried away in the minds of artists who haven’t had the right opportunities to realize their dreams. If we do realize these dreams, then Kareem Kent may be coming to a cinema near you!
By diversifying our work, we aim to have a global reach and that appeals to both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. Ambitious yes, and that is what gets things done. We want to create a new wave of cinema that is driven by Islamic values and within Halal boundaries. Freesia is a raw, honest, multi-narrative journey that looks at women’s rights, the role of Mosques, and what exactly feeds the far-right mentality. With it we have created new sub-genre – Islamic social realism.
Here’s why it matters – Islam needs positive media attention. Period.
Right now the narrative goes something like this:
1) An Arab utters script from a terrorist’s handbook.
2) A Pakistani father forces his little girl into marriage.
3) Write. Produce. Repeat.
We want to change this, and we also want to support the talented yet undiscovered actors, actresses and crew members – in particular BAME – who are working hard for their big break, which in turn strengthens the independent film industry as a whole. The indie scene must flourish and be a genuine alternative to the remake/rehashed movie age we find ourselves living in, because originality shouldn’t become an endangered species.
In addition, we propose to be a platform for those who haven’t had the chance to work in this field due to cultural or religious reasons. It’s always been clear that to stand a better chance of succeeding in the movies, you need the right waist size or the chiseled body. Why? Not all actors want to get their kit off and the hurdles are tougher for practicing Muslim actors in particular. Many do not want to engage bad language, illicit scenes or remove their hijabs – and why should they have to? Halal entertainment needs to become mainstream.
Freesia is coming soon to selected UK cinemas. You can read more about the film and about Arakan Creative here.