NL: I think it’s dangerous to look at every Muslim woman the same and to assume that every experience within the religion is the same, meaning that there are going to be strong and assertive women that are Muslim. There’s going to be a more passive woman who just so happens to be a Muslim. There may be a funny, big-personality woman and she’s Muslim.
I don’t think the religion makes the woman; I think the woman is who she is within the religion. Just like in Christianity or Buddhism, obviously there are certain practices that dictate one’s life, but I don’t think you can say all Muslim women are a certain way.
TR: How does playing Safiyah differ from your real-life role as mother to your 10-year-old son, Massai?
NL: I don’t really like to compare my life as an actress and being my son’s mother. My personal life and my professional life are very different, and I try to keep them separate, just because my personal life is so precious to me. But I will say, whether you’re playing a mom on-screen or you’re in a car pool lane driving your child to school in the morning, there are similarities that are undeniable. And once you’re a mother, there are certain things that are instinct. You just have a better understanding of what it means to be a mother.
TR: How do you think this film will impact people’s impressions — their tolerance and understanding — about Islam?
NL: Hopefully it will open up dialogue. I think that’s the most important thing: that we create dialogue. In talking and communicating, [it’s important that we] really share information with one another — because I think that leads to better understanding — and also just kind of [educate] one another in a way that’s really honest.
TR: What were some of your challenges in making the film?
NL: Because it’s an indie film with a very small budget and very small cast and crew, that’s always challenging. But that’s also the very thing that makes this project special. When you have all the bells and whistles — you’ve got the big, fancy catering, you’ve got the big, fancy car service and the big, fancy trailer — it makes it very comfortable and everybody’s making a lot of money.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to end up with a great film. You hope to. I think what’s special about this one is that we had none of the bells and whistles. We had to solely rely on our director, the script and the other actors to make a project I think we all feel very proud of.
TR: There has been a grassroots campaign to get more people to come out and see this movie and get it distributed to more theater locations. Why is this film one that people should see?
NL: I would say that [the subject matter is] relevant. Americans are in need of very objective information, and sometimes it’s easier to absorb the message through entertainment and through a great story than through the news outlets [where] everything is sensationalized. Not only are you getting information that sort of defies stereotypes, but you’re also getting a wonderful story with hopefully good performances. So it’s entertaining and informative.
TR: What did you learn from this movie? What did you take away?
NL: I learned a lot about Muslim people and Islam and the dynamics between men and women and their daily practices. I learned there’s a tremendous amount of sisterhood among Muslim women, which I thought was really beautiful. I was happy to be a part of the film.