American Sharia tells the story, through action-comedy, of a Muslim detective who has his own prejudices against Islam, following constant exposure to Islamophobia.
Pedro Carvalho follows Omar Regan, a renowned Hollywood actor and the protagonist of the tour, on his transformational journey, which results in ending rising Islamophobic tensions between the police and the community he serves.
With American Sharia you set out to show Islam in a positive light, to give Muslims a chance to tell their story, but why did you choose to do this through film?
One of the main reasons for film is that that’s my passion – making movies is what I love to do. And it’s a plus because we’re always misrepresented in every film 99.9% of the time. If there’s a Muslim in a film he’s a terrorist, and the majority of Muslims out there can’t relate to this. So I wanted to finally have something that we can actually relate to.
When and where did the story for American Sharia come to you?
It was April 24th 2012, I remember the date. It just came. I was fasting that day, for which I’m so grateful, so I guess I had a clear mind. I woke up and I said “I know the story that I want to tell”. Things were happening in my life at the same time and in the news and it was really busy. I wanted to have fun and some movies influenced me and I just had the whole story come to me.
How did you start putting something as big as a film together?
I have written a script before but it was for Hollywood so it wasn’t really catered to a Muslim audience. So now, I wrote the script, and I was like “now I gotta get some money to make this movie”. I was telling people “I think I got something, I gotta make a movie” but they didn’t believe it, they couldn’t see it. So I took some money and filmed for two days to make a trailer, to give them ideas for parts of my script that I wanted to show. And then people were like “hmmm, kinda interesting” but they still didn’t give me the money so I had to crowdfund and get the money and I was happy to raise it.
How do you find the people to work with, the actors and cast?
What I did first was targeted people who had a bigger fan base than me and who were Muslim. I had already toured wth Baba Ali and liked him. He had a bigger fanbase than me so talked him into it! I targeted Adam Salah and Sheikh Akbar and Yaz the Spaz. It wasn’t until we were in production already till I met Couni [young producer] and she really took a loving and a liking to me and my mission and vision. She supported me in all her skills, she put everything into helping me complete the film.
How does it feel now the film is out there?
It’s so humbling, amazingly humbling to know that the idea come from my head on to paper, into film and then people are watching it. It’s emotional on the inside and I can’t find the right words. It feels good. It’s amazing. Like a dream come true. I brought my mum, my son, my brother cos you can never have a dream come true experience by yourself. This is the most fulfilling thing ever. You never felt anything like this until your passion and your dream came true and people are actually enjoying it.
What kind of feedback have you been getting? Are people laughing in the right places?!
I’m so happy. People are laughing in places I didn’t think they were going to laugh at. To me honestly I love it when they laugh and I know I also gave some serious messages in there. I really feel the unity of the laugh of different cultures, people, ideas, if everybody laughs together it really feels like a big hug.
The tour is here thanks to Penny Appeal and the Smile Relief extravaganza month – “Smile, it’s a Sunnah”. Why is it important to smile?
If you smile you’re hurting nobody. Not hurting people’s feelings, not being offensive, not being arrogant. If you smile it means you already care about each other. Penny Appeal said “We’re changing lives, you’re changing minds, let’s come together.” It was so humbling to me. This is the first screenings of the film, it’s in the UK all because of Penny Appeal. I wanted to make a movie we can all enjoy. The most important ingredient is laughter and smile. If we can smile and laugh together the world will be a better place and we can all prove that we can get along.
The tour is raising money to support orphans worldwide, why is it important to include that fundraising element?
It’s like a win-win – you can make people smile and at the same time raise money to change lives. That is good karma times ten! There’s no way I would be unsuccessful with that kind of focus and mission, to can use my gift and talent and hard work and give back at the same time. It is humbling to know that they are raising funds and to know I had something to do with it, that feeling is amazing.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
I want them to be like “I never thought about that like that”, to have a different mindset. To see a Muslim in hijab and not automatically think “is she one of them” but to think positive. Muslims are doctors and lawyers and store clerks and neighbours. Of course you have bad people out there and they’re of all kinds. I want everybody to come together. Islam was never separatism , it’s caring about the human being cos you were created from the same source as me. It doesn’t matter that we choose different paths. All of us should get back to the essence of caring about each other. Islam is you care about everybody and that’s one of the main messages I want to promote.
What’s next for Halalywood Entertainment?
I’m so busy! I have a movie called ‘I rest my case’ – a buddy lawyer movie. It’s about two self-made laywers who falsify their qualifications, they land a big case. They don’t know how to get this guy off but they know he is innocent. They do all they can to make sure this guy is acquitted. It’s kinda chaotic, and funny.
Then there’s an inter-faith comedy, a Halal rom-com and American Sharia 2: Muslim Police Department.