During Ramadan, Zubair attempts to connect with his culture through food content on social media ... he ultimately ends up getting schooled by his grandmother on how to prepare a traditional dish.
FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Actor and Activist Fatima Gloria Shahzad
Fatima Gloria Shahzad is an actress, producer, activist and businesswoman who is passionate about digital health, patient-centered design, type 1 diabetes and film (taken from LinkedIn). We met after she reached out to me while both of us were quarantining to be extras in the movie “Don’t Look Up” by Adam McKay where we breathed the same air (through masks and face shields) as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, and many other legends.
(Fatima’s interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Shahjehan: What do you have going on this year that you’re excited about?
Fatima: I’ve been really dedicating mind, space and time to writing my own short. I think I’m really interested in writing from the perspective of American Muslim stories or just Muslim stories in film. I think it’s a pretty liberating time to not feel the pressure of representing everyone and just telling your own story. … And just looking back at the experiences that I’ve had in the last three years of going through the pandemic just like everyone else, but also in this journey of trying to start a family and pregnancy and loss … I’m very excited to embark on something [new]. And I’m saying it out loud so that I do it. So that’s scary, but that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Shahjehan: How did you become someone that is a member of the creative community?
Fatima: Well, I’ll say it’s a lot of kind people along the way. For example, my background is in public health and business, and I focused mostly on communication, health and marketing, which is the storytelling world of those career paths. And I’ve always been interested in the creative world. … I’ve always known that I wanted to be a part of it. …
I just [cold] reached out to people [for] a documentary that just came out this year [called] “The Human Trial.” Seven years ago, I reached out to the director and just pitched myself … [saying] “I have type 1 [diabetes], a background in storytelling and communications and would just love to be a part of this in any capacity.” [I] ended up joining as a consultant on the research side and eventually becoming a producer as well, and following that all the way through to it being released. I think that’s a good example of just the kindness of people in letting me in and taking me along for the ride. It’s been really good in that respect in terms of getting experience on the production side, on the storytelling side, and seeing how it all works. That documentary took 10 years to create … so it felt really good when it finally came out.
Other sorts of involvement in the creative world [were] more self-motivated. I joined an improv class like a year and a half ago, kind of breaking barriers and putting myself out of my own comfort zone to feel more comfortable in the creative space and meet other creatives. I’m doing a lot of background work, auditions all the time, [and] all that sort of stuff.
Shahjehan: I know that you’re somebody that has been pretty open about your personal life. As someone who’s also done that, what is it like to put things out publicly that maybe not everybody would be open with sharing. Do you find it cathartic and important? And is there ever a moment where you’re like “Did I really just say that?!”
Fatima: I love that question actually. I’ve experienced three [pregnancy losses]. First one during the pandemic, and to me it just felt like, I don’t know why we don’t share these things. For me it was sharing the joy at first, like “I’m pregnant, this is really exciting.” And … I knew it wasn’t an instinctive reaction for me to not share [the loss of it]. It was like an outside reaction. How will people receive it? I was really burdened by caring about what people thought, and I was like, “I’m going through something I want to share.” It wasn’t because I think people should know. That’s like an after fact for me. To me it was just cathartic to be able to share. I would always share this example: If I got hit by a bus, I’d probably tell any stranger. Like, why wouldn’t I tell somebody if I’ve been hit by an emotional bus of losing a pregnancy? Right? I think I’ve just been pretty open because that’s how I process.
I like to talk to people and I’ve also been really lucky to have people around me who understand, who I’m not afraid to share with. I think on a wider scale on Instagram or social media [in general], I don’t know what kind of feedback I’ll get in terms of maybe not aligning with how I think or having to take on the responsibility of responding to something that I’m not really sure was the best way to comfort me … and to see good intention, but … you kind of put yourself in the place of an ambassador.
I like storytelling. I like talking about feelings. I think sharing is where vulnerability starts and where real connections are made. And to hold that back, I’m like, “Okay, then what are we talking about? The weather? That’s boring.” We should talk about things that matter. And when there’s negative feedback or when you don’t find support, I think it’s an opportunity for growing in those relationships or just walking away from them: Maybe that’s not the best person for that particular experience. But then you find really beautiful people who support you in amazing different ways as well. … The only time I’ve regretted sharing is when I’m processing and I’m not ready for other people to process with me and give me advice so I have done it on my own timeline.
Shahjehan: What was the first time that you felt like you were finally an actor? Like your “holy shit!” moment?
Fatima: One was on “Don’t Look Up” when we were in the press conference room with Meryl Streep and Leonard DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re in this room! It’s been hours, and we’re just ripping with some of the best improv actors that I’ve ever seen or the whole world has ever seen, and I can’t believe I’m in this room. I can’t believe that I might get picked on to respond.” Of course, I didn’t get picked on. My husband got picked on and it was the first time he had ever done anything like this, and that was hilarious to watch. For me it was like, “Oh my God, this is completely surreal.” I think it was because I was watching my husband go through it, somebody who I know very well, and seeing myself in him.
[Another time] I had to connect to my own emotions and really bring out a character, I had the opportunity to do some improv acting for nursing students who [were] working on some therapy skills with patients with mental health disorders or certain types of trauma. I had to play a 12 year old or 8 year old boy [and] I was like, “How am I gonna do this?” His story was that his mother had been deported and he’s having trouble sleeping and bedwetting and all these different sorts of issues. I had to portray that with a therapist and it was pretty surreal in that I was like, you gotta cry, right? A child would cry in this scenario. An adult would cry. Anybody would cry in this scenario.”And [I felt like] I’m gonna be so in my head about it — I’m not gonna be able to connect with the emotions. But when we actually started rolling, I was actually crying. Like it was, it was this cool meeting [of] actor and the persona or the character that I’m playing kind of meshing. … It was almost like I was watching myself and that was a really cool moment where I was like, “Ooh, I can do this and I’m doing it.”
Shahjehan: Who a Muslim or Muslim-ish creative person that you admire?
Fatima: I love everything Riz Ahmed does. I think he’s really, really smart … and … really, really resonates [with me]. He’s a very strong actor, but then seeing that he’s also a Muslim actor just elevates that connection. I loved him in Sound of Metal, where [the film] didn’t even talk about what his ethnic background might be. He just brought his A-game to that role. … Ten years ago, I think it would’ve been something that barred him from being cast, but today it’s an afterthought. Not that it has to be, but it’s kind of great to be able to step into that role and not have to say like, “I’m a Muslim actor first.”