If you had told me five years ago that there was going to be a feature film about a skateboarding, poetry writing hijabi, I simply would have never believed you.
Now that idea is a reality. Hala is a coming of age story that follows a first-generation Muslim-Pakistani seventeen-year-old girl as she begins to find herself while navigating the hardships of her home life and social life. She also starts to learn about her sexuality and the agency that comes with it. Geraldine Viswanathan, who starred in the hit comedy Blockers last year, delivers an incredible performance that felt intimate and nuanced which tremendously showed the kind of versatility she has. The film tackles many important and relatable topics, from familial and cultural pressures to desire, what freedom means and more.
In the beginning, Hala’s parents, Eram (Purbi Joshi) and Zahid (Azad Khan) seem to present a united front on most things, but it isn’t until Hala discovered something within the family (no spoilers, I promise) that you start to see the cracks in their marriage. This ultimately allows Hala and her mother’s relationship to blossom and become the heart of the film.
Minhal Baig’s film felt super personal, almost like I was invading Hala’s personal space by watching. This is down to the semi-autobiographical nature of Baig’s film drawing on experience from her senior year in high school.
Starting off as a short film, Baig needed the proper finances to get Hala made as a feature film in Hollywood and her prayers were answered when Jada Pinkett Smith, who is the executive producer, came along and wanted to back this story. Pinkett Smith said she felt inspired and found a lot of similarities regarding her own journey in finding herself.
What resonated with me, despite having watched it 2 months ago, was that this film was subtle yet so impactful, especially with the cinematography. Carolina Costa is the amazing woman behind capturing the film’s aesthetic which was, in turn, very pleasing to watch. Often times, the camera would pan to leaves hanging in a tree or Hala skateboarding with a voiceover of her poetry and those moments were really special because they were simple and quiet, with the score really pushing the scenes, but there is a beauty in the simplicity. That is the point Minhal Biag was trying to make with this film, there’s nothing wild or extravagant about Hala but that this is like every coming-of-age story, it just so happens to centre around a Muslim girl.
Ever since the official trailer released on November 5th, there has been a bit of controversy, especially on social media. People have been quick to judge and have come to their own conclusion that Hala is about an oppressed Muslim girl who abandons her religion and is ‘saved’ by some white boy. If you’ve watched the film in its entirety you would know that that is not accurate and there is a deeper, more nuanced story than that minuscule part of the film. Minhal Baig wrote a story based on her own truth and experiences and she shouldn’t be demonised for sharing it. When I saw the film at TIFF, I was in awe because as soon as the end credits started to roll, I remember the audience broke out in applause, and then taking note of how diverse the audience actually was. That moment solidified the fact that this story has the ability to resonate with you no matter how old you are, what you look like or what you believe in.
Hala is in select theatres November 22nd and Apple TV+ on December 6th
by Kadija Osman
Kadija Osman is currently studying journalism at Ryerson University. Her favourite director is Greta Gerwig and she is also her inspiration for writing her own screenplay. She is deeply in love with Sophie Turner and tries her best to bring her up in almost every conversation she’s in. She hates to admit it but she never appreciated the score in films until she watched Me Before You, now it’s what she looks forward to when she watches something new. Her favourite films are Skate Kitchen, Lady Bird and Kingsman: The Secret Service. You can find her on Instagram kadija.osman or Twitter kadijaoxo.