Samah Safi is a 28-year-old award winning filmmaker who lives in Washington DC. She studied film-making and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy in New York City. She merged her passion in faith with arts to produce unique humanitarian and Islamic entertainment for audiences in the West and East, such as short films, PSAs, TV Campaigns, TV programs, documentaries, drama series and music videos.
With her husband Director Muhammad Bayazid, her life and work partner, they produced the first American drama series “Inspiration” that shows the morals of the prophet Muhammad PBUH through a dramatic plot. It went viral and received over 50 million views on social media and TV platforms, it’s been translated into 16 different languages, and won the best creative project in the ICDA Dubai Festival. Her latest film “Orshena”, a short film that addresses the issue of refugees around the world and the hardships of losing their beloved ones has been officially selected for many international film festivals, and recently won the Award of Excellence in the Indie Film Festival in California.
This story is part of “Muslims of America”, a photo series created by Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer and activist currently based in NYC. The project is dedicated to capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States. We will not only be sharing the images from the project, but each image will be accompanied by a personal and unique story to show our shared humanity. To read more about Samah and the rest of the faces from “Muslims of America click here.
What is it about filmmaking that captivated you and made you pursue it as a career?
I’ve always wanted to work in the media field since I was very young, it was like a hobby at first but when I got older I realized how the media has the power to create change and spread awareness. It is the greatest way to express ourselves, our thoughts and our values. The magic of this career is beyond words, to transform your imagination into reality, to have the ability and creativity to tell your stories visually is absolutely spectacular. Filmmaking is not just a career for me; it is my passion, the thing that I want to do for the rest of my life.
What has your journey being like in a field that is mostly dominated by men?
Working in this field is one of the hardest and most challenging careers for women in general. However, it is definitely different for a Muslim woman who is wearing hijab since no one is expecting a hijabi filmmaker on the set with all the prejudgments and misconceptions about Muslim women. Ironically though I face more struggles and challenges for wearing hijab in my everyday life than on a filming set.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
My mom. Though I never realized this when I was younger, but now when I look back and remember many of my life events, I always remember her supporting me and making me believe in myself and assuring me that I can overcome all the hardships and challenges and be whoever I want to be. Pursuing a career in the media field was never easy and it wasn’t accepted in the Arab Muslim community many years ago, But she kept supporting me despite of all that and so I am very grateful to her for that.
How do you think films can create positive change in the world?
Movies have always been an effective way to communicate messages and ideas to an audience. It’s a great way to build bridges between people and to tell your own narrative and story. Now a days more and more of us filmmakers are using our projects to create a positive impact and to spread awareness about issues that might hopefully lead to action and bring about real change.
Unfortunately Muslims continue to be presented in a very bad way in both movies and television series. Most of the time they are being presented as terrorists or violent people, and in the best-case scenario they are presented as ignorant people! It is very important to clear these misconceptions, and to show the world the right image of Muslims through our film productions. This is our responsibility.
Do you have any filmmakers or their work that you admire?
Yes many for sure, but I admire Christopher Nolan’s work the most. I’ve watched all his movies many times and I’ve learned so much from them. Nolan’s films are very well done and many of them can be considered as masterpieces. His films always revolve around the human condition and family relations in a futuristic setting with a time manipulation theme, which he tends to use a lot, like in Inception, Interstellar, Memento and Prestige. I also admire the work of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and Alfred Hitchcock from the old generation for sure.
Which is your favorite project you have worked on so far?
I love every single project I’ve ever done over the last 5 years, and although I’m not a mom, I see all my works as my children; each project was just an idea at one point that we nourished and took care of until it became a mature project and film. But if I had to choose one, I think “Inspiration Series” and “Orshena” are my favorite projects so far. Inspiration Series is the first American drama series that shows the morals of the prophet Muhammad PBUH through a dramatic plot by telling the story of an American Muslim guy who faces the challenges in his life by finding inspiration in the prophet’s legacy. It went viral and got over 50 million views on social media and TV platforms, it’s been translated into 16 languages and it won the best Creative project in the ICDA Dubai Festival. While “Orshena”, a short film that addresses the issue of refugees around the world and the hardships of losing their beloved ones has been officially selected for many international film festivals and recently won the Award of Excellence in the Indie Film Festival in California.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
To always have a great vision that leads you on the right path, and makes you focus on creating positive impact in other people’s lives. I believe that the only competition I have in this life is a competition with myself, to always strive to be a better version of myself every single day, on both the personal and professional level. One more important lesson I’ve learned is to set my priorities in life and to stick to them and make my decisions and actions accordingly.
How would you like to be remembered?
When I read this question I paused for a while and felt very emotional. After I leave this world, I want to be remembered by the work and films I did and how they hopefully touched people’s hearts and lives. I hope I’ll be remembered by the change I made and the influence I left behind. I want to be remembered as a loving wife and a caring daughter and sister, as a good friend and a nice neighbor. I ask Allah to guide me in the right path and give me the wisdom and strength to make some positive change in this world.