Cast: Aizzah Fatima, Salena Qureshi, Shenaz Treasury
Director: Iman Zahawry
The Khan family tries to navigate their own versions of the “American Dream” in different walks of life, and figure out what it means to be “American”.
Directed by Iman Zahawry, “Americanish” stars Aizzah Fatima, Salena Qureshi, Shenaz Treasury, Mo Amer, Ajay Naidu, and Lillete Dubey in main roles. Fatima, Qureshi, Treasury and Dubey make up the Khan family, with Dubey’s character as the matriarch and classified “Pakistani mother”.
Fatima plays the character of Sameera Khan, an ambitious and hardworking political social media consultant. At work, Sameera goes by the name “Sam”, as to appear more “American” to her majority White colleagues. At the beginning of the film, there’s no clear love interest for Sam, however her main on-screen conflict is with her relationship with her culture.
At a point during the film, Sameera’s boss, a political candidate known for his ignorant and racist views, asks her what her ethnicity is.
He asks her about her name, to which she replies, “Sam”, and he goes further and asks her what her last name is. “Is that a Muslim name?” he asks. Sameera replies, “It has Hebrew origins … I’m a hundred percent American, sir.”
For Sameera, she needs to shed her Pakistani identity in order to prove that she is, in fact, American. This scene is particularly striking, as Sameera is proving that she is ashamed of her culture and family in front of her White boss. She even moves out of her mother’s house to gain her independence, and this becomes a source of conflict between her and Qureshi’s character. However, as the film progresses, Sameera learns to embrace not only her culture, but also her true personality, and showcase that in public.
In contrast to Sameera, her younger sister Mariam, played by Qureshi, cares deeply about how her family, and especially her mother, views her. Mariam plays the role of a “perfect Pakistani daughter”: she chooses to wear a hijab and is studying for the MCAT, aiming to go to Harvard Medical school.
Even when her mother questions her wearing the hijab, Mariam says, “I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t get my values.”
Mariam seems quite content with her culture and ethnicity, but is less confident when it comes to her romantic life. In the beginning half of the film, there’s a large focus on her romantic arch with her classmate and crush, Shahid. They even fall in love, yet hit a roadblock when she thinks about giving up her dream of becoming a doctor in order to marry him, a decision which Sameera vehemently argues against.
“If Shahid gets into Harvard, and I don’t, I’m thinking of letting the medical career go … just for a little while.”
For Mariam, her love for Shahid makes her put her dreams on hold, atleast at first. Throughout the course of the film, she has to learn how to stand up for herself, and put her best interests before anyone else.
Shenaz Treasury plays the role of Ameera Khan, the cousin of Sameera and Mariam who has travelled to the U.S. with one goal: to find a “nice Pakistani boy to marry”. She speaks to the stereotypical American idea of a South Asian muslim girl, and is especially close to Dubey’s character. Her bubbly and overly optimistic nature doesn’t make her naive, but moreso, simply hopeful that she can make her parents and her family proud of her.
As the film progresses, Ameera’s dream of finding a Pakistani boy to marry starts to disappear when she falls in love with grocery store cashier, Gabe Dale, who befriends Ameera when she makes him her famous mango lassi. Although she is engaged to a Muslim boy of her aunt’s choosing, Ameera starts to realize that her budding friendship with Gabe is something more than just acquaintanceship, and questions what she really wants in a marriage.
Throughout the film, all three women have to learn how to balance their own dreams with supporting their families and learn what “being American” means to them. Zahawry has beautifully weaved each story to stand alone but intertwine when it comes to the climax of the film. For first-generation South Asians in the U.S., “Americanish” reflects the feeling of imposter syndrome in an extremely realistic way.