How US-based Halalywood plans to change the mainstream narrative of Islam?
- 19 March 2019
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Can a comedy on religion “turn the current narrative about Muslims on its head?” Omar Regan certainly thinks so. His next movie, Faithful Neighbours, which will begin filming next year, is set to be the “perfect blend” of religion and comedy to ask the kind of questions many people have about Islam today.
“This is a story about three faith leaders, a pastor, a rabbi and an imam, who all live in the same neighbourhood and absolutely hate each other … that is, until a Satanist moves in!” Regan said, his roots in stand-up showing.
Faithful Neighbours will be produced by Halalywood Entertainment, a US production company founded by Regan to change the mainstream narrative of Islam. “This is a movie where audiences will be forced to consider what it is that really makes a person a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew, and it does this in a light and entertaining way.”
Omar Regan has already produced a well-received movie tackling Islamophobia in America. American Sharia, starring award-winning Hollywood actor Eric Roberts (brother of Julia Roberts) is currently on a UK tour hosted by the charity Penny Appeal. It is an action-packed comedy that features Roberts as an Islamophobic police officer.
Regan now hopes his production firm, which has also produced a children’s cartoon series, will go on to become, in terms of output, the Muslim version of media-streaming giant Netflix and change how Muslims are viewed across the globe along the way.
Faithful Neighbours will be followed closely by a multi-part series called Hijabis in the City, set in New York. Though the subject matter couldn’t seem more different from that of the famous US TV series that the title alludes to, the objective is the same.
“Just in the way Sex in the City revealed the lives of mid-30s New York women in an entertaining manner, this series will finally shine a light on the real lives of American Muslim women,” said Regan, who believes Muslim women are highly underrepresented and misrepresented by the mainstream media.
“That is the whole point of Halalywood,” he said, “so Muslims can claim back the narrative, and we can represent ourselves. The material we produce allows us to say, ‘This is what real Muslims are actually like. This is what we are about, and how we live our lives’, but also be able to say it in an entertaining and fun way.”
This need to reclaim the narrative is one of the reasons for the growth in media platforms like Halalywood, according to Dr Bilal Hassam, Creative Director of the UK channel British Muslim TV. “Muslims are fed up of not seeing their own narratives on the big and small screens, and as a result lots of Muslim media professionals are emerging who want to change this,” he said.
He continued: “Combined with the shift in the demographic of our communities and their evolving tastes, and it is easy to see why there is such a demand for this new, sophisticated and positive Muslim media. I believe what we are seeing is just the beginning.”
AN ISLAMIC UPBRINGING
Born in Detroit, Regan’s mother converted to Islam when he was five, and from then on he was brought up with strong Islamic values that affected nearly all of his choices while trying to make it in the entertainment industry.
At the age of 11, he and his brother founded a rap duo called S.O.A. (Servants of Allah), which used hip-hop to promote Islamic values. They enjoyed relative success opening for a host of famous hip-hop stars, including Method Man and Eminem, but eventually disbanded.
After this, Regan tried his hand, less successfully, at comedy and then Hollywood, where his most prominent role was doubling for Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2.
However, when Regan began to bring them in line with his Muslim identity and experiences, his comedy and film careers turned around. “I realised that was what people found interesting about me and also what I wanted to speak about using my artforms.”
Since then, he has toured the world as a Muslim comedian, and his movie American Sharia was screened twice at the Cannes Film Festival.
(Writing by Tharik Hussain; editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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