Sheila Na’imah Nortley is a woman whose characteristic and experience reminds me of why Muslim hijabis should stay strong enough in their beliefs so as not to become dispirited or pessimistic during trifling times. She is an educated and award-winning film producer who refused to allow disappointment stop her from reaching high, above and beyond. In return, Sheila Na´imah realized that it did not matter whether she was a Muslim or wore the hijab; what was important was her experience, will power, evident passion and abilities. I have had the honor of interviewing this inspiring Muslimah.
R. Screenwriter of TV shows, short films and feature films! How do you do it all while managing a family of your own?
S. It’s a juggling act. I’m blessed with a great family who understand how busy I can get or how consumed I can be like sometimes, I need to write from morning until evening. It’s just what I need to do sometimes, but they also accommodate, help and support me in anyway they can. They’re incredible. They alleviate any form of stress and cause me none. The question should be about how could I do it without having a family like this to call my own.
R. What is your educational background? Where did you study and what did you study?
S.I have a Media & Communications Bsc. which I received at Brunel University, somehow! I say ‘somehow’ because uni was a hard time for me. That said, I really flourished in production and that’s where I’d spend all my time. My dissertation was a piece on The Discourse of Black British Cinema with a Case Study on Bullet Boy.
R. When, in your life, did you become fascinated with wanting to create movies?
S.I started making films when I was nine years old. It wasn’t movies that fascinated me so much as it was stories, human beings, people, cultures, history and societies. I found the tapestry of communication between individuals and entire nations mind-blowing and stunning. I realised, at a very young age, that it was more than escapism for me, it was actually the opposite: to me, filmmaking was and is a powerful tool for creating realities which could actually cause social change.
R.When did you realize you wanted to be a producer? For those unfamiliar, what does the job of a producer entail?
S.I never really wanted to be a producer *laughs.* I’m still not sure I do. I think with a lot of indie filmmakers, you just fall into it and before long for it, you’re like ‘Oh! I’m a producer! Is that what that is?’ Essentially thoug,h the producer is the boss of the entire show. They are responsible for the process from pre-production to post-production and all of the legalities regarding contracts, investments, etc. Depending on the budget for the film and the crew size, sometimes a producer can delegate to other members of the team and the work can be distributed amongst line producers, production managers, etc. Essentially, the producer will manage all different departments.
R.You have been nominated and have won many accolades including the recent ´Woman of the Future Award 2016.´ Tell us about how you felt!
S.It was indescrible, it really was and I’ll tell you why. This was the first time I won an award for me. Everything else has been for a film I’ve made or worked on, but this was the first time I won an award as a human being and not for a particular movie or screenplay. I’d spent three years on sabbatical and to be honest with you, I think some people who feel that success is synonymous with Facebook followers or retweets had lost faith in me because I’d chosen to remove myself from those circles. Some people, not all. That came as a shock to me, at first. But, at the same time, the support I had when I reappeared to work on ´The Strangers´ movie, outweighed and overshadowed any previous Disappointment. The ´Women of the Future Award´ was a reminder that working hard and being kind to people mattered more than social media stardom and that, I’d made the right decisions. I felt that I was right to believe in being a black, female, Muslim hijabi screenwriter couldn’t hinder me, strengthen and beautify my authenticity. I didn’t have to change or compromise myself to do what I wanted to do.
R. When and how did you come into Islam?
I became Muslim in 2008. As I mentioned earlier, uni was a really difficult time for me and sometimes it’s when you’re going through pain or heartbreak you yearn deeply for answers and who can give you answers. I did a lot of research online, coming from a very Christian and also a pan-African perspective and it didn’t take me long to be convinced that I wanted to become a Muslim. In 2013, when I got back from Miami I embraced Islam fully and began practising consistently.
R. Tell us about ´The Strangers.´
S. ´The Strangers´ is a beautiful movie set in an interesting and inventive dystopian world, reflecting upon relevant current societal issues and themes. With relatable and dynamic characters, it explores issues of faith and culture through the exciting genre of conspiracy or thriller. Amazing cast and crew attached to it so it’s very exciting! The trailer will be released Online so keep an eye out on our social media:
R. What are some of your favorite movies?
S. ´Shawshank Redemption,´ ´Malcolm X,´ ´Apocalypto,´ ´Primal Fear,´ hard to think of them off the top of my head, ´Training Day,´ ´Paid in Full.´ There are loads.
R. Who is your inspiration.
S. My mum, my sisters, my bestie are full of love, dignity and humility. They’re hard working and generous. I just love them and they’re amazing, they really are!
R. What advice do you have for aspiring film producers?
S. Study your field. I advise this because I wish someone had advised me earlier of the importance of understanding investment and distribution.