Did your parents disapprove?
My mom definitely disapproved, I think, for a very long time. She would sit with the aunts and everyone would talk about how their kids went to school and are now pursuing an engineering degree or some other business. [job] – and she would just be like, “Yeah, Iram went to Caltech,” and then there would be silence. But now I think she understands it and they are proud. It is also difficult for them to understand what success is. For them, success is an Oscar.
How did your scientific training influence your achievement?
I basically believe that the mind of the artist and the mind of the scientist are very similar because they are both curious.
When it comes to the father-daughter relationship in the film, have you made a conscious attempt to subvert the expectations of what audiences expect from South Asian performances?
The point is, there are a lot of fathers in the world who are extremely kind and positive towards their daughters, and it exists. Even the grandfather is still a very gentle and gentle man. And I was a little tired of seeing this story. I don’t think it was a conscious thing, “Oh OK, here’s that theme, let’s do a little bit of the opposite.” I just think it was always another thing that I often struggled with, that I feel sometimes women have been conditioned to push patriarchy more.
What impact do you think the film can have today, especially after the Trump presidency?
Anti-Muslim bigotry is very present; communities of color must protect [themselves] even more in terms of surveillance. And the fact that it’s a family like yours – [the film can] humanize and connect so you don’t see Muslims as unicorns, but they are actually like people you know, like your neighbors. So we’re just hoping to provide one more data point on what it means to be a Muslim-American, and hopefully create more similarities.
Because at the bottom of it all, it’s the story of a family trying to reconnect. Yes, they are Muslims. But it’s about secrets, intergenerational trauma, conflict, those things.