Fawzia Mirza: Making Her Signature Move
Writer, producer, actor, former lawyer, South Asian, Muslim, brown girl – just some of the words to describe Fawzia Mirza.
Canadian / American actor-writer Fawzia Mirza is a queer woman of many talents. A former lawyer who practiced for “two years and nine months, but who was counting?” – she decided to leave the law, and take the big leap of faith to begin following her true passion: acting. She recently released her first feature film, which she co-wrote, co-produced and starred in. Signature Move has been rocking queer film festivals the world over, scoring her more accolades than she knows what to do with!
So why did she become a lawyer, when her heart was so clearly elsewhere? “I was raised in a pretty conservative Muslim South Asian family,” she replies. “My parents believed in their kids being highly educated and being able to be self-sufficient and there are great opportunities in Canada and the US that are not in many other countries. They wanted me to get a higher degree,” she says quite emphatically.
“My dad was a physician and I remember looking at some of the medical textbooks, and I was like, ‘Nope. Science, glad it exists. Do not understand it. Cannot compute,’” she laughs. “Instead I went to law school to make my parents happy, and I certainly didn’t want to to get married and settle down right away!”
So the journey from lawyer to worldwide, award-winning filmmaker has been an interesting one and one that has seen Mirza turn her hand to writing and producing her own short films, web-series, mockumentaries and plays. “Since 2012 I have been cultivating a community of Queer filmmakers, artists, theatre creators—a community of people who I support and who saw what I was doing and supported me,” she says. “It's definitely not something that happened overnight. I was going to Outfest every single year, being nurtured by them as a film festival community, I definitely had hoped that one day something I made would be recognized. It's cool that it's now happening so well.”
Mirza has gone from the supported to the supporter – as someone who is so busy, how does she find the time to be a leader in the queer arts community? “I didn't set out to be a leader. I started writing because as an actor I was tired of waiting to be cast. I was tired of waiting for someone else to tell me, ‘You are good enough, you are brown enough, you're South Asian enough, you're queer enough, you're woman enough, you're this fill-in-the-blank’ enough,’” she declares.
“I didn't see that representation. Even if there were some stories, they weren't written by us, they were written about us, which I think is a very important distinction,” she explains. “For me, it was really a matter of creating because I needed it. Then when you talk about leadership it comes because we all need each other. I needed the people that I look to. I need people to tell me that they are affected by the work I'm doing so that I know that what I'm doing matters. Otherwise, I'm just creating in a vacuum.”
Mirza is deeply passionate about the intersectionality within communities, where people belong to more than one minority group and are struggling to have their voices heard from within any of them. “I'm working for my women's community, my feminist community, my Muslim community, my queer community, my brown or black community,” she explains. “I’m thinking about the diversity and intersectionality within those communities and having empathy towards people to build stronger voices within these marginalized spaces, so we can collectively fight against racism and oppression.”
Mirza personally ticks a lot of the boxes that her own US government is trying to further marginalize and silence. When Trump first started becoming prominent in 2015, and was talking about building walls, and putting Muslims in camps, Mirza thought about what she could do as an individual to hit back. “The hate speech was unacceptable. My reaction at that time was to think, ‘what is the power that I have, which is really so small, that I can do to create something comedic or satirical?’”
“So I created a documentary that I called the Muslim Trump. It’s a 15-minute piece that's online at themuslimtrump.com, and I play the illegitimate Muslim daughter, Ayesha Trump,” she reveals.
“Part of that was, ‘Let's talk about this and not ignore it.’ Being from one of those communities that he was talking about, I wanted to address it. Like, why does anyone hate anybody so much?” she wonders aloud, before adding, “I always use comedy as a tool to talk about these topics, but comedy, for me, doesn't make the concern any less. It doesn't make the concern ‘comedic.’ It just means comedy is the way I tackle my concerns.” Mirza then takes a sip of her water before adding with a laugh, “I have so many little rebellions!”
Two other web-series Mirza has been involved in that she’s very proud of are Her Story, written by and starring two transwomen about their day-to-day lives, and telling their stories from their own perspectives. “They are an incredible group of people and some of my closest friends now. I’m so proud of that series and my involvement in it.”
And there is also Kam Kardashian, made before Caitlin Jenner transitioned, with Mirza playing the lesbian sister of the Kardashian family. Her motive behind that series was wondering what would happen if the Kardashians had an LGBTQI family member? If Kim Kardashian could send just one tweet to her many millions of followers, saying ‘I love my lesbian sister’, the potential positive impact could have been huge. Sadly, she never did.
Here’s where we get to talk about Mirza’s film, Signature Move. If I were to list all of the awards this movie has won, we’d be here all day – but let me say, I loved it. It’s hilarious, sweet, moving, definitely very sexy, and gives lesbians the happy ending we are so often denied. It pays homage to Mirza’s Pakistani Muslim heritage and to those living intersectional lives, telling the audience that ‘I have to adhere to my culture, but I have this other side of me (that may or may not include wrestling!), and there are clashes that may come between family, and self, and relationships, and friends.’
The most inspiring thing is that the movie was almost entirely crowd-funded, a vision come true for Mirza. Among other awards, it’s won Best Narrative Film at Columbus International, Best Director and Best Actress at Out San Diego, Audience Award for Best Narrative in Connecticut, and Mirza won a Jury prize at the Canadian South Asian Mosaic Film Festival. And the accolades keep rolling in.
If you have the opportunity, see this film! It will be available on Amazon Prime once it’s finished touring the queer film festival circuit.
Just announced: Signature Move will make its NYC theatrical run on October 13 at Village East Cinemas.