July 8, 2015

SCA Alumni Stories: Mahin Ibrahim

Mahin Ibrahim '14

Inspired by the power of film to impact social and cultural perceptions, Mahin Ibrahim ’14 hopes to tell stories about race, religion, and identity in her films. In a recent interview, Ibrahim shared with us her experience as one of the student directors of Don Quixote, her growth as a filmmaker during her time at SCA, and also offered advice to current SCA students.

1. What made you want to pursue a career in the industry?

I always joked that my curfew in high school was 3 p.m., right after school ended, because of my strict parents. So, I’d entertain myself and read book after book. I fell in love with storytelling, and that led to a natural interest in theatre, and later film. What I loved about these worlds was getting to work with so many people. People are generally happiest when they are around other people, and I loved coming together with a team for the sake of making art.

2. As a filmmaker, what kind of power do you believe film holds when impacting social and cultural perceptions and conversations?

Two of my favorite filmmakers are Mira Nair and Asghar Farhadi. Instead of trying to explain my South Asian culture, I give people Nair’s Monsoon Wedding since it illuminates it in a more profound way than a simple conversation from me ever could. Asghar Farhadi’s work has done the same for me. I have a window into life in Iran, one that emotionally stays with me, and makes me care about people nearly 8,000 miles away.

3. Recently, you were a part of the team of SCA students that worked on Don Quixote: The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha. Could you share with us your experience as one of ten student directors on the film?

Being a part of this production is one of the reasons why I loved going to USC. There was no way I'd get an opportunity like this without having gone to USC, and I am really grateful. My fellow directors were really collaborative, passionate, and kind, and I could not have been part of a better team. We were thrust into the indie world but backed by professionals (USC and Rabbit Bandini Productions), so it was a really unique experience. For example, there were times when two of us directors would shoot completely different scenes in the same location, maybe 10 feet apart. I’d literally wait for one director to yell ‘cut,’ then I’d yell ‘action’ and we’d go back and forth like that so we could make the day. It was really intense. However, I always felt supported during the entire production. Our producers, Professor Watson, James Franco and Iris Torres, and my fellow directors had my back, and I knew we’d get to the finish line and make the movie we set out to make.  

4. How has your time at SCA impacted your work and your vision as a filmmaker?

I didn’t know anything about film before I went to SCA. I had no idea how to make a shot list, direct actors, get permits, use ProTools, etc. I came in with a passion for storytelling and left knowing how to translate that love into the technical and practical process of film production. In terms of vision, I was most influenced by my fellow classmates. I got to see Ryan Coogler and Sev Ohanian, two of my role models, making Fruitvale Station right after graduating from USC and that experience changed me for life. Ryan was so confident in how to tell a story and confront racial and social issues with such beautiful precision, and Sev was relentless in protecting the story and doing everything he could to ensure Ryan’s vision came through. It taught me a lot about knowing exactly what you want to say and how to create the environment to make it happen.

5. Your short film, The Wedding Night, portrays the intimacy between a Muslim couple when the newlywed wife removes her hijab for the first time. What compelled you to create this short film?

In CTWR 505: Creating the Short Film, Professor Pope gave us an assignment: write a seduction scene. As a practicing Muslim who doesn’t date, I had never experienced seduction. I wracked my brain for what to write about and started to think about what seduction and passion mean in Islam. From that came this story, which was based on my close friends’ experiences on their wedding night. To me, removing your hijab for the first time is more intimate than sex.

We see sex on the big screen and TV all the time so we become desensitized to it, but few people will ever experience what it’s like to remove your hijab for the first time in front of someone you deeply care about, so I really wanted to convey that one moment in time.


6. Looking to the future, how do you see yourself and your work evolving?

I’d love to continue to tell stories about race, religion, and identity, which are themes I deeply relate to. For example, I’m part of the 1st Women’s Mosque of America and our goal is to empower women, deepen their connection to the Quran, and help build future female leaders. One of my goals is to have a YouTube channel where everyone can hear from these amazing female speakers directly, which doesn’t happen as often as it should right now.

7. What are you currently working on?

I currently work at YouTube Space LA, where I work with movie studios and media companies to create production programs for YouTube creators. It’s exciting to be part of the digital forefront, where every day a new platform and way to interact with your audience is introduced.

As a Muslim, I’m passionate about using my expertise to raise awareness for Muslim voices and give them a platform to deepen the conversation around the issue of extremism online. I’m working with great artists like Aman Ali, Nushmia Khan, and Tasneem Khan to tell their narratives online where it can be shared globally with the click of a button, and I’m so excited to see this unfold.       

8. What advice would you give to current SCA students?

One of my favorite quotes is: “Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” As a female in a male-dominated industry, I sometimes second-guess myself and don’t think I can do something. I advise to push yourself to say, “Yes, I want to do this,” even if you’re terrified, and only good things and more learning will come out of it.