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Lena Khan is an independent filmmaker from Alta Loma, California. A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Lena initially studied political science but switched because of her increasing interest in continuing social activism.1 In 2008, she won the grand prize for the One Nation, Many Voices film contest for her short film, A Land Called Paradise.
For A Land Called Paradise, Lena solicited the responses of over 2000 Muslim Americans about what they wished the broader American public knew about the Muslim community.2 Set to the song, “A Land Called Paradise” by the country singer Kareem Salami, the video captures the diversity and ordinariness of the American Muslim experience as individuals hold up handmade signs such as, “I am black and I am not a convert,” “I visit my parents every weekend, even though they drive me insane,” and “I, too, shop at Victoria’s Secret.”3
Lena has also directed several other films, such as Baseem Is Trying, a humorous social commentary on the sense of the intensified scrutiny associated with being Muslim.4 In the short video, a Muslim man named Baseem struggles to appear as a normal American, fully aware of the how he may be perceived negatively by his coworkers or others in the community. For instance, in one scene, Baseem prays in his office, but the moment his coworker unexpectedly comes in, he immediately pretends to have been doing push ups.
The absurdity and humor of the video originated from Lena’s own life, in which she often felt extremely aware that she could be the “only Muslim” her coworkers or classmates had ever met. In an interview about the film, she said, “You always feel like they’re going to base everything they know about Muslims off of how they see you. So you find that you’re always trying really, really hard to make a good impression even if it’s for things you normally do.”5