If I had a penny for every time the representation of Muslims on screen infuriated me, I would be a rich man. I still fall into the trap of being excited every time I see Muslim characters portrayed, only to be utterly deflated when they sound like they were written by someone whose possibly never met a Muslim before. It seemed antithetical to me that the only time I ever see Mosques in films, it is preceded by ominous music as if the very sight of one should induce fear and anxiety.
That’s exactly what excited me about being asked to direct Do It For Her. This was a film about Bilal, a young Muslim man whose life starts unravelling as he sinks deeper into the depths of gambling. Played by the brilliant Fady Elsayed (Gangs of London), we set out to make something that felt true to the lived experience of our communities, whilst still paying tribute to the role that faith plays in a lot of Muslims’ lives.
Along with most Muslims I know, I struggle with being a good example of an observant one. But my relationship with God and my community is filled with hope, positivity and love. I did not simply want to hire out a Mosque to use as a backdrop, but I wanted to actively involve this space and community leaders to ensure that it actively represented the community it was about. We partnered with the inspiring London Islamic Cultural Society and Mosque, consulting with them about the script and even filming during their Friday prayers.
Before this film, I had no idea that gambling had skyrocketed during the pandemic. Insidiously, lower income areas were often targets of betting shops and online adverts. Gambling is prohibited in Islam and can be stigmatised, often swept under the rug. Support networks are not properly funded or publicised and are unable to be fully effective. It was no surprise then, when I learned that individuals from minority backgrounds were more far likely to become ‘problem gamblers’ once they started.
The film was commissioned by The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), Red Card and Talk Gen and produced by Fully Focused Productions, the inspiring youth-led production company who run MYM. The secret formula to their success is honestly so simple it boggles my mind that no one else seems to be doing so – they let young people make the decisions! We worked with an amazing young team including our writer, Mohammedally Shushtari, who brought nuance to the story by channelling his own personal experiences (having a step-father who is recovering from gambling addiction). We used extensive research to draw out the push factors of addiction and conducted our own focus groups.
As a Muslim director, working with a Muslim writer, and casting a prominent Muslim star in Fady Elsayed (who has been open about his own past struggles with gambling addiction) has made this experience enriching in so many ways. We received countless messages that moved me to tears. Ex-gamblers thanked us for telling a story that rang so true. Families of gamblers even reached out, expressing that it was the first time they were truly able to see the human behind the addiction.
We were lucky to premiere the film in two places. The first being in the iconic Everyman cinema in Angel. Even more poignantly though, we premiered in the Mosque we filmed in. It felt particularly special, to have such a diverse audience of all ages, backgrounds and faiths under one roof. To have in-depth discussions about the film with Uncles and Aunties who would usually never frequent the cinema. It felt like this was my purpose: where my heritage, my place of worship, and my biggest passion in life as a storyteller had coalesced in this incredible space.
Do It For Her is the kind of film I had always wanted to make. A rare opportunity to entertain, whilst also starting a dialogue that can hold a mirror to society in a way that feels honest and truthful. We need to talk more about what kind of support should be on offer and the structures we need, to ensure that stories like Bilal’s don’t go unheard. Getting the opportunity to tell a story that matters to me, to raise awareness about an important topic no one speaks about, and to represent a character/community that we almost never get to see on screen, those are the reasons I became a filmmaker. Stories matter. And I feel so privileged to have gotten to make this.
So people know, whatever your background, issue, or affliction, you are not alone. You are never alone.
About the Author
Shehroze Khan is a filmmaker and youth mentor at Fully Focused Productions. As a Writer/Director, he has won awards and screened at the likes of TriBeCa, Flickerfest and Hamptons. He previously worked as Jude Law’s assistant, and as Director’s Assistant to auteurs such as Marc Munden on the Sky/HBO series THE THIRD DAY, as well as Clio Barnard on her BBC Films feature, ALI & AVA and Apple TV+ series, The Essex Serpent. Recently selected as one of Film London’s Lodestars, and previously on the BFI x BAFTA’s Film/TV Crew 2018, Shehroze is passionate about telling stories that can shine a mirror to society and that we rarely get to see. @shehrozecreates