Hasnain Ali: Producing Opportunities

Featured Image: Yekaterina Gyadu

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Hasnain Ali is a Pakistani-American Muslim actor and producer from Queens, New York. He has been in short films, web series, TV series, and feature films such as the 2017 romantic comedy Irritable starring Aaron Dake, Stefanie Bloom, Jessica Barrish, and more.

Ali’s love for acting began when working in finance. He took public speaking classes to improve his presentation skills and later met his long-time acting coach, Blair Baker. He then appeared in his first on-screen performance in the drama short Amelia in 2016. When describing how he found roles for himself in the early days, Ali says: “I realized very quickly that opportunities for somebody like myself are slim. I’ve also realized that when writers or producers are creating films, they don’t really have somebody like me pictured in their mind… the lack of opportunities was kind of what made me realize I wanted to produce.” In 2017, Ali produced and starred in three short films: Routine, Qalb, and First Stop. Ali says, “The reason why I produce films is so that I can make an opportunity for myself and others” and he is currently working on more projects that will hopefully be released soon.

When asked about how his identity has impacted his career, Ali simply responded, “It is my whole career in acting!” He recalls his change in perspective, stating: “At first, my identity didn’t mean anything to me because I was kind of out of the know, but I quickly realized why I have to build my reputation and my name up. Then I realized now it goes even deeper than that, because I’m a Pakistani Muslim who is trying to play a role, and the way you look makes a huge impact… I want to battle that whole stereo-cast thing that we have in the industry.” Ali’s mission statement emphasizes “authentic cultural representation”, which he says is important in Hollywood: “There has been a lot of misrepresentation of not just culture, but religion itself. Even in the indie circuit where my focus is, it’s more white people writing these [South Asian] stories. And they just don’t know what a Sikh is, or the slightest difference of someone who’s Pakistani or somebody who is from India and the cultural differences behind that, and that makes a huge difference behind the camera.” In Hollywood, South Asians are often depicted on screen in stereotypical or even offensive manners — this can occur on any scale from Raj on The Big Bang Theory to Apu on The Simpsons.

“It’s extremely important for people to focus on cultural differences because the South Asian subcontinent is beautiful and diverse… and we need to see that on camera.”

Ali’s produced work makes a point in addressing taboo subjects, specifically in his short film Qalb where a white Christian woman and her Pakistani-American boyfriend struggle to bridge the gaps in their religious beliefs and social norms. He says, “I think that [addressing taboo subjects] is very important for me because first, want to educate the next generation. Secondly, we don’t want the next generation to have to deal with what I’m dealing with, where these subjects were never spoken about and it’s like there’s no solution to these issues, or people feel stuck like I was. And lastly, that it’s just okay to speak about these things, especially in our community.” Now, more and more taboo subjects appear in film and TV, specifically within the South Asian community — shows such as Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever and movies like Netflix’s White Tiger among others. Ali speaks on the urgency of getting South Asian stories out there, saying, “We can talk about these things but it has to start now, because the thing is, right now is the time for our stories to be pushed forward, and we see with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and all these big streaming platforms looking for writers like us to push our story. So it’s extremely important that we’re doing this now for the future of our generation… so they don’t feel like they’re pushed out of a specific area of art, like film.”

Photo courtesy of Hasnain Ali

As advice for up-and-coming actors and producers, Ali emphasizes having courage and preparing for hard work. Regarding young actors, he says, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to say no. Your first role could be you get to play this bad villain guy who stereo-cast, but it’s okay to say no. It shows that you value yourself and it shows that you have respect for the craft.” As for producers, Ali says, “I recommend everybody to get that creative freedom who’s stuck where I’m stuck where you can’t really do anything, but also be aware it’s a lot more hard work. There’s going to be days where you want to give up but you can’t, or there’s going to be days where you collaborate with people and it’s just going to have to be stressful for you.” One of Ali’s most important pieces of advice was: “There’s no ‘making it’ in the industry. That’s the first thing I learned when I first started. There’s no such thing as ‘you made it’ — there is simply just hard work, and you just keep doing it.

So, where can you view Ali’s work? Ali has acted in many short films and series but when prompted, he confessed his favorite had to be the 2017 romantic comedy Irritable. He says, “I had a lot of fun with that one because the director, Joe Schufreider, allowed me to explore the character on my own… I also met a lot of great actors and it was one of my bigger films.” As for his productions, he currently has four short films out: Hot Fizz, Routine, Qalb, and his favorite, First Stop, which has been shown at multiple film festivals including the Soho International Film Festival and the Toronto Muslim Film Festival. Ali speaks about First Stop saying, “That film means a lot to me because my acting coach, who I’ve been with for six years, actually wrote it for me and also directed it. That whole film, we shot overnight at a gas station in Queens, New York.” Currently, Ali is said to star in an upcoming silent short film, Spin Cycle, directed by Jose Clemente.

You can also catch him now on his podcast 786 Boulevard — “It’s a podcast I have with Nouri Sardar and Ali Alvi where we basically get artists from different aspects of the art world. Chefs, painters, calligraphers, singers, musicians… we get filmmakers like myself, and we just talk about them and their connection between their work and their spirituality. I started doing that because I’ve kind of wanted to do something artistic, but we couldn’t because we’re home [during the pandemic]. We’re parked at the confusing intersection of spirituality and culture, a place where Muslims can discuss film, art, fashion, pop culture, and faith.”

“Nobody was really there for me, so I want to be there for anybody… I’m an open book. You can reach out to me for any question and I’m always willing to help and to speak about things, even if you just want to just have a chat about a movie that you’ve seen.”

You can keep up with Ali’s work on his website and Instagram.