Hailing from our hometown, Baltimore, Ayanna comes from a legacy of Black Muslim Women in our community who possess that OG #BlackMuslimGirlFly. I grew up with her older sisters, and to see this beautiful, talented, young woman blossom and grow is all kinds of special for me. Seeing her mother sing in her film, “WUDU,” got me all in my feelings, because I remember Aunty Sabreen singing, and loving the sound of her voice when I was a kid. Now, Ayanna is breaking the mold and creating her own lane as another talented artist, filmmaker, storyteller, out of Bmore, and I couldn’t be any more proud! Read what she had to say about being a Black Muslim Girl from Baltimore, and her bright #BlackMuslimGirlFly.
Team BMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is defined as that “it” factor Black Muslim Girls & Women have that makes them amazing, dope, & fresh-to-death awesome. How would you describe your #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Ayanna Sharif: I would describe my “it” factor as my personality and goofiness, but at the same time, I’m serious about what I want. I also have this openness to create and be different every day. So, I change each day based on how I want others to see me and simultaneously be myself. I am authentically me, and I do not change for anyone. I like to be around people, and people sense that so they gravitate towards me. Style. Black Muslim Girls being carefree and having this certain confidence. That confidence and cultural awareness. Sometimes, we may not know where we come from, but we incorporate so many cultures into our lives that it becomes that Black Muslim Culture that we know now. That Black Muslim Girl Flyness.
Team BMGFly: How did you grow into your Muslim identity? And, how does being a Black girl impact that? (Or, if you’re bi-racial, or of multi-ethnic heritage, how does that impact your Muslim identity?)
Ayanna: I think I grew into my Muslim identity just trying to learn how to incorporate Islam into my way of living, but at the same time, I’m Muslim, I’m black, and I’m just trying to live and enjoy life each day as best as I can. Islam is just there for us, it’s not a religion, but a path that I am striving to stay on. Mostly, I think that straying just a bit is okay because it’s me living my life and being human. Being black feels like Islam anyways. I felt I was already living it day to day, and I think of it as Black than Arab; because its how I grew and lived life. I’m just as Black as possible, though I’m pretty sure I have some white in me. We are all mixed up, but I’m just Black. That’s my best answer.
Team BMGFly: How do you maneuver your industry as a Black Muslim Woman?
Ayanna: It impacts me because I live by a certain code. I have this moral compass that many people may not have. I have strong beliefs and morals. I am not going to go astray or bend over for the sake of anyone int he industry. I will not compromise my Islam for it. And if you do not have that conviction, then people will coax or make you do what they want and you end up doing something really crazy. This can put you in a position of having someone having leverage over you. I feel the industry is a men’s club, and being Muslim and black, they have this idea you are exotic and pretty. So they try to get to know you because of those qualities, but you have this understanding and idea the interest is for you in your talents and character, when in fact, it’s for their own personal gain. So I lay down the law that I will not be played or toyed with, and I will be taken seriously; whether you think I’m gorgeous or beautiful. So Islam is like my protection from those kinds of interactions and energies.
Team BMGFly: What made you decide to take that leap of faith into filmmaking?
Ayanna: I have always been interested in Art. I started in acting in high school as president of the drama club. In college, I was into theatre, acting and in stage plays. Now, the school I was in was more directed towards the actor, and I had this idea to be the first Muslim Black woman actress and make it big. I soon realized that this was not what I wanted, and I found I loved being behind the camera. I wanted to know more. I like to maneuver the camera, I wanted to write, direct and be in charge. So one day, I took and film class, and it just completely changed everything. I fell in love with the art of filmmaking and the history of film. It was then that I realized that this was what I wanted to do. This is what I’m going to do.
Team BMGFly: What were the steps you took to become a content creator?
Ayanna: So, I graduated with a film degree. I started working freelancing with a bunch of people and they were working on their own stuff. So they would hire me to be an assistant, PA, crafty, little important jobs. I somehow fell into script supervising, and I have been doing that position a lot lately. When people come to Baltimore as an independent artist, and they come looking for someone like me and its great, but I’m still in the beginning stages. It helped me want to create my own stories more. SO when I got over my writers’ block, I started to write about my dreams, recently WUDU. I am very proud of my recent short film. Right now I’m working with the production company that is helping me to create what I want to create.
Team BMGFly: How do you keep aware of what you deliver as a filmmaker, and what you have that separates you from others in your industry?
Ayanna: Telling the stories of what I know. My friends, Islam, my family, it is always going to be stories that surround me. Being in friendships and relationships, what society tries to put on us as pressure. Now I may not have Islam as the forefront, but it’s still relevant in my films. You will still see things about myself in the films and I want to keep the things that keep me unique in my stories. I want to tell people about myself through filmmaking.
Team BMGFly: How did you come up with the title “Wudu,” and what’s the story behind it?
Ayanna: The title came up from the ritual we do as Muslims to prepare for prayer. It’s basically an evolution to wash, cleanse and purify themselves before they talk to God. That’s pretty much the story of the film. The girl finds solitude in the forest to pray, away from the negatives of society, to attain peace and tranquility with Allah.
Team BMGFly: What’s the number one thing you hope people will gain from watching your films?
Ayanna: I want them to know that even though you’re awkward and weird, and you might still be kind of like cool at the same time. But, you don’t really see yourself as cool. You are not alone. And, there are so many people– everybody feels that way. Your story is going to be told. Your story is very much similar to another person’s story, but it’s still unique in itself. And, I want them to basically… I want people to figure out that Black women are unique in themselves, and they don’t have to be that stereotypical “hot girl.” Or, “I’m just confident in everything that I do,” and all of this stuff. Because we’re all different. We have different things about us that make us so fly. And, we might not be confident all the time, but it’s something still there.
Team BMGFly: What is your typical day like? And, tell me about any special events you recently attended as a filmmaker?
Ayanna: A typical day for me shows that I am a full-time filmmaker, but I’m not a full-time filmmaker. I work a full-time job that has nothing to do with filmmaking, but filmmaking is on my mind 24/7. So, I feel like it’s my full-time job, as I’m always looking up things about filmmaking, production jobs, and learning. I’m always in front of a computer at work researching endlessly since I work every day. I try to figure out what my next step is in my career after work each day, and on some days I will sometimes work at the Marriott and hospitality, but after work, I go straight to a set. That is pretty much my life. Even working late, with little to no sleep, I still try to do both, get my money and my hours, because I want to do what I love and also get paid and take care of myself. I don’t really go out much anymore, but I try to get out as much as I can. I actually went to an event yesterday, and I want to say I went as a filmmaker or as an artist, but it was the photography with Devin Allen who scored the Time Magazine cover of Baltimore uprising, and I went to his event. Watching him speak about healing through his work in photography, was a way to look at my own filmmaking and it made me realize I want to heal through my filmmaking. I saw his photos in the gallery, and even though they were pictures, I felt that they were moving and had life. The work was to emphasize the healing and work in Baltimore. He was interviewed by B. Watkins. His work was to show what it meant to be a Black person in Baltimore.
Team BMGFly: How does your career impact the other aspects of your life, including your family?
Ayanna: They know it’s a process, They know that I’m not probably not going to make all the money that they had wanted me to make when I was little. You know, every parent wants their kid to be like a doctor, or lawyer, or something that makes a good amount of money that they can take care of themselves, and even help out the family and take care of them as well. So, they know that I’m an artist. And, I might not make all the things that I want to make right now, but eventually, it’ll get there, inshallah. And, they support me. My mom is an artist, my sister is an artist, you know. So, I come from an artistic background from, birth. So, yeah, they kind of have to, it’ll be a kind of crazy if they didn’t.
Team BMGFly: Who did you look up to while growing up? Who inspires you now?
Ayanna: Mara Brock Akil. She inspires me now and I followed her growing up looking at “Girlfriends” and watching all of her shows. I grew up with John Hughes films and 80s movies. I absolutely love 80s movies. Watching the breakfast club, st elms fire, wanes world, though I’m sure it came out in the 90s, pretty in pink, 16 candles, ferries butlers day off, I felt like they like me so much and I could watch them constantly. I actually have a DVD collection of all these 80’s movies. Once I started to get into filmmaking and films, like raging bull and Martin Scorsese started, they were just my favorite people. Ava also has been inspiring me with not just her films, but her work industry. Her work, her interviews and distribution company, and she once came to Johns Hopkins for a visit and her real advice, it was awesome and she was an amazing documentarian. In my personal life, I would say my filmmaker friends. They are striving to do the things they love. My best friends are teachers, mothers, wives and they do all these things and are killing it. They are the Black Fly Muslim Girls. My father also inspired me as being a hard worker, dedicated and even a workaholic; not to forget ambitious. People around me in general, I try to keep them to be good people and inshallah it stays that way. My filmmakers friends seem to inspire me the most. My family knows its a process, and I’m not going to make all the money they would wish for me to make, but they know I’m an artist and they have faith and believe in me and my endeavors. My mother is an artist, so is my sister, so its a sort of birthright and legacy.
Team BMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt defeated, and how did you overcome that?
Ayanna: I am constantly feeling defeated honestly, its part of being an artist. So, I have to remember that I will get through it inshallah. I remember when I was little I had this saying that when things would hold me back, or I felt I couldn’t get through, I would say this will not kill me. It is temperamental. Get through it, figure it out, find modes of transport. You are only here a short time, so put your faith in Allah and keep going. I pray about it constantly and just put my faith and trust in Allah. Ill also just write to ease myself.
Team BMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you defied odds or broke barriers?
Ayanna: When my film WUDU was screened for the first time, I felt like I beat the odds of myself. All because I was sitting int he script for two years, and the pre-production process took me so long, finding the cinematographer, getting the crew, finding the actress I wanted, it took so long. Not to mention the seasons, it had to be warm, had to have the ideal and perfect conditions because she is in water and is not doing it for free. It felt like it was never going to happen. I didn’t have a lot of many to make it so we shot on a red camera, which is not easy to come by sometimes, but the rental pricing can be ridiculous. Thank Allah I had friends to get me connections to deals and all the discounts so it could happen. It all felt it was impossible, but it came out amazing. Once it was screened not the first day, it was a full house with other artists presenting their work, but they were all there for my film from far places like D.C. They actually came from places like D.C to see my work, and it made me feel accomplished and self-confident.
Team BMGFly: What would you cite as the foundation of your success?
Ayanna: My family. The foundation is my family and their support and love. They are always trying to help me succeed in whatever I want to do because they know I am ambitious; which they all share. Their love for me from Allah, Alhumdulillah.
Team BMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is an empowerment brand created to uplift and remind Black girls that they are FLY in many ways. What advice would you give all the Black Muslim girls out there, worldwide, to cultivate their own individual #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Ayanna: I would just say that you are already Fly. You are already the epitome of #BlackMuslimGirlFly. Keep doing what you are doing, and do not let anyone make you doubt yourself, because it will come up all the time due to you being a Black Muslim Woman. They are going to doubt your ability to work, to make a difference, and question your work. It’s all because they see you as the stereotype of being in the house all the time, being loud, lazy, good for just a few things and even uneducated; which doesn’t make sense because we are the most educated in the USA. You are Fly already, so just keep doing what you do.
Team BMGFly: What’s something you haven’t done yet, but would like to do next?
Ayanna: If I could do anything, that’s hard. Well, I would like to travel, and not feel held back so I can travel anywhere I wanted to. I would learn about other peoples cultures and learn about myself. Learn about the world and every single city in that world. I love that idea. Inshallah, I will achieve that.
Thanks again for sharing your story with us and the rest of the world. I believe it’s very important for us, Black Muslim Girls and Women, to stand up and speak up and let the world know we are here and we’re making things happen. For far too long, we’ve been made to be invisible.