"Hatefuck” Stages the Debate About Muslim Representation Through a Messy Potential Romance

"Hatefuck” allows for nuanced portrayals of two Muslim characters at odds but also comfortable in their sexuality and desire for each other.

"Hatefuck” Stages the Debate About Muslim Representation Through a Messy Potential Romance

After coming up against several obstacles in reaching the stage, “Hatefuck,” premiered in Chicago at First Floor Theater. Chicago actor and community organizer Arti Ishak was tapped to audition for the play in 2020, but after the pandemic began the production was canceled. Determined to get the play up on a stage, as “Hatefuck” became Ishak’s directorial debut.

Ishak first reached out to playwright Rehana Lew Mirza, who they believed could handle the nuance of the characters and their central conflict well. The play follows the ideological differences — and desire — between novelist Imran (Faiz Siddique) and literature professor Layla (Aila Ayilam Peck), as they debate their ideas of good Muslim representation. Imran writes characters into his work with anti-Muslim sentiments in order to critique them, but Layla believes he shouldn’t include such tropes at all.

Both Ayilam Peck and Siddique were excited to bring to life Lew Mirza’s nuanced script with messy, complicated characters. In a conversation with The Chicago Reader, Ayilam Peck noted, “We have a lot of stories in contemporary theater about being the child of immigrants but so few about how those children actually engage with the world.” After growing up in Indonesia and Singapore before moving to the U.S., she found the transition to life in America difficult and different from the “melting pot” she had imagined. Ayilam Peck also rarely has had the chance in her career to play sexy characters or perform intimacy on stage, as she was often cast as the “innocent, prudish types,” but “Hatefuck” gave her the opportunity to do something different.

Siddique also never really considered the arts as a viable career pathway But he took acting classes on the side apart from his premed courses as an undergraduate, and Siddique found that this was his true passion. He was surprised by the nuance and depth afforded to Imran, and noted, “Seeing the name of a Brown playwright, I was excited. But even subconsciously I was like, ‘Oh, I’m probably going to be an interpreter.’” His character’s thoughts on representation are provocative, but his and Layla’s back and forth allows for honest, vulnerable conversations about Muslimhood and representation.

As Ishak’s directorial debut, “Hatefuck” required a level of boundaries and trust, especially with the more intimate scenes on stage. Ishak aimed to have an actor-centered room, and made sure to build an atmosphere that allowed the actors agency, especially with the fight and intimacy director Samantha Kaufman. 

In a sparse setting, “Hatefuck” allows for nuanced portrayals of two Muslim characters at odds but also comfortable in their sexuality and desire for each other. The play challenges the stereotypes that so often restrict Muslims on stage or on screen, and allows for a more authentic and specific representation of a debate that Muslims have had — and continue to have — amongst themselves as a community. 

Read our conversation with Arti Ishak here.

Artist Arti Ishak: “We’re Not Artists First, We’re Humans First” — FannBoy Friday
FannBoy Friday is a weekly column from Shahjehan Khan that highlights American Muslim creatives. A biracial, non-binary Muslim American, Arti Ishak has often felt the pressure to simplify their existence for the comfort of others, and the loneliness that comes from never getting to see their…

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