From the time she was young, director and writer Lena Khan was always glued to the silver screen — but few of the stories churned out by some of Hollywood’s most talented players paid any resemblance to the life she knew.
The film industry isn’t exactly known for producing jobs where women make more than men. And in Khan’s case, she faced an even steeper challenge — only 1.3 percent of minority females work in feature films.
“When I grew up, inaccurate portrayals of Muslims on TV and film just made me feel really distraught,” she said. “If it’s not a terrorist, I think they say it’s like billionaires, belly dancers and wife beaters.”
In order to pursue her dream, Khan knew she would have to create her own path.
Keep reading to see how Khan landed her dream job.
The Elephant in the Room
Khan noticed right away that her appearance affected a number of executives.
“The minute I go into a room with an executive, they look up a little bit,” she laughed. “They’re noticing the colorful piece of cloth on my head, and it’ll take them a little moment before they are done being surprised that I can speak normal English.”
But Khan, like many aspiring filmmakers, knew the process would be a struggle.
“Everything in the industry is sort of an uphill (battle),” she said. “It’s an extremely competitive industry.”
“Had I been showered with money, I wouldn’t have learned to be scrappy and figure it out,” Khan said.
While some filmmakers were jumping into their first Hollywood projects comfortably on a studio’s dime, Khan was essentially cliff diving.
“Where did that money come from? It came from me,” she said. “I was doing things like writing eHow articles, doing somebody’s accounting for a while — and I am not an accountant.”
Many of Khan’s lucky breaks came from a healthy dose of savvy and some guts.
Khan recalled the times when she and her producer would sneak into various places, even venturing to Las Vegas to hunt down potential investors.
“I would just guess email addresses, for like hundreds of investors, so I’m writing thousands of emails, and some people actually replied. And a lot of those people became our investors.”
Creating a World She Recognized
Khan’s first film was filled with a colorful cast of characters that accurately reflected the world she grew up in.
“The Tiger Hunter” — a dramedy set in 1970s Chicago — tells the tale of a young man who comes to America and tries to live up to his father’s success.
Khan scored acclaimed television actor Danny Pudi as her lead, as well as “Napoleon Dynamite” himself, Jon Heder.
“It was crazy walking on to set and be like, ‘these are my actors,'” she said.
Her continued success in the film world has encouraged other aspiring filmmakers to take the leap.
“There was an intern that flew in all the way from Canada, and she was also a Muslim girl who wore a head scarf, (and she said) ‘you really inspired me,'” Khan said. “‘The Tiger Hunter’ sort of opened up the entire world for me.”
Click through to read about another individual trying to turn his dream into a reality.