Samah Safi Bayazid has always been a storyteller. Growing up, she wanted to be a news anchor or a television presenter with her own show. Although there weren’t many women in hijab in front of the camera at the time (the amount these days isn’t much higher), she persisted. However, her dream to be in front of the camera soon changed after taking just one film production class.
After taking journalism courses in college, Samah decided she wanted to explore the whole production process to better understand her role as an anchor in front of the camera.
“I went and studied filmmaking from A to Z and I fell in love with it. I felt like wow this is what I want to do. So I started volunteering with…different documentary and other production companies like small roles here and there,” Samah said.
From wanting to be in front of the camera to behind it, Samah soon found her passion in film production and direction.
“I felt like there is more power with being a filmmaker. We’re not just directing the camera movements and the actors. So we have the story, we have the concept that we want to share with the world.”
While working as a crew member on a documentary being filmed in Jordan, her native country, Samah and Muhammad, the director and now husband just clicked. Since their first meeting on that film set, Samah and Muhammad have become inseparable filmmaking partners.
“I think Alhamdulillah we work really good together so we’re two different personalities but we share the same passions and having these personality differences at some level and having things to join us at another level makes us…we really enjoy working with each other,” she said.
As two self-proclaimed workaholics, Samah and Muhammad have learned to find a healthy balance between a marriage and a professional relationship.
“In our relationship, we understand when we talk to each other as filmmakers and when we’re talking with each other as husband and wife,” Samah said. “Working together and being together and filming and preparing for projects, it makes us more connected with each other and our relationship is stronger.”
Although it’s challenging, Samah and Muhammad have made their busy life work in favor of their marriage. Support, respect and love, according to Samah, are the keys to any successful marriage or relationship, professional or otherwise.
After building a successful filmmaking career in the Middle East producing and directing several PSAs, short films, and television series, the Bayazids decided to make the move across the Atlantic. From Jordan to Washington, DC, Samah and Muhammad were set on making a new life.
“We believed we can offer here more than we do there. Here, there aren’t many filmmakers in the United States and projects that are talking about Muslims,” Samah said. “We believe that being in the States, American productions are more likely to spread all over the world.”
She noted that projects they’ve filmed here like the Inspiration Series with Sheikh Omar Suleiman and Mohammed Zeyara reach wider audiences in comparison to their Middle East productions.
“Like the Inspirations Series [has been translated] to over 16 languages with millions of views. If it was in Arabic, it wouldn’t get this. If it was filmed in Dubai, it wouldn’t get this exposure,” she said.
Muslims in Hollywood
Over the past two decades, Hollywood has been insistent on portraying Arabs and Muslims negatively. Muslims are often characterized as the terrorists, the uneducated, the oppressed, and the poor.
Samah intends on challenging that.
As we’ve seen in recent years, social media, television and film absolutely affect the way people perceive Muslims.
“We need not only on the news level and report levels to be fair, we need to speak up for ourselves to tell our stories,” Samah said. “Not necessarily show ourselves like ‘oh we’re angels and we are the perfect religion or perfect people’ just like us as we are. To tell stories of us, I think that could change something throughout time.”
In this era of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in the adoration of people. It’s important to note, however, the negative effect it could have on self-esteem and confidence. This is why, according to Samah, it’s crucial to be particular in who you choose to keep close.
“Anyone would be careful with choosing their friends because when they want to get into your life, your personal life, know that you’re lazy today or not doing work and you a problem with your life tomorrow and you’re working tomorrow, they are going to have the full picture that no one has the right to see except your family and close friends, someone you genuinely care about and they care about you like on the other hand,” Samah said.
Getting into filmmaking as a career made Samah an anomaly in the culture she grew up in. She was alienated and talked about when she’d travel for work or return home past dark during late night shoots. Keeping her family close during this time was important, as they were a part of her biggest support system at the time.
“My parents, especially my mom was very supportive. And she was, whenever anyone says anything she would stand up for me,” Samah said. “My family, the closer family, were very supportive and also because I stepped into this business gradually. Step by step. It wasn’t like Oh my God! What is she doing?!”
While nailing her successful film career, Samah still hopes to be impactful. Along with expanding her family and career, she plans on creating more feature films that represent minorities, including Muslims, in a more “creative and fair way.”
“I don’t want to leave this world just as a I came to it. I really want to do at least my part,” Samah said. “I feel like each one of us was sent here for a reason and I feel like Allah SWT showed it clear to me and now I need to do my part and just give it the priority.”
Story and photos by Rawan Elbaba