Inclusion, film, and Bend It Like Beckham by Ghazaleh Golbakhsh

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I have met Ghazaleh at a conference a couple of years ago when she was in the midst of her PhD in film, media and television. She is incredibly outspoken and honest about her journey. Which is why it is with pleasure that I share her story here. 

I have always had an incredible amount of admiration towards your industry. Media has a profound effect on everything that is going on in our world. Whether it is reporting news, creating connections or making you laugh and think deeply. What was your main mission going into it? Has your mission changed since?

I had grandiose dreams of becoming an actor and I always loved to write because I watched so many films from a young age. When other students dreaded writing short stories in class, I would write epic novellas that even my teachers could not be bothered reading. In my 20s I got frustrated at the lack of roles being written for women, particularly women of colour and so I thought that if I wanted to see this change, I would write them myself. Film in particular is a director’s medium so I ended up directing my own things too (many will never see the light of day as they are terrible but that’s how you get better right?). My mission is still the same. I want to make the change that I want to see in this industry where people who were marginalised before are now given a voice; an authentic voice that is theirs and not made up by someone else. One of my favourite actors Riz Ahmed once said that representation is about being included in the national story. If we are absent from that story, then we feel that we do not matter. We all know the importance of stories and film, TV, media are powerful mediums that can tell them to wide audiences across multiple platforms.

Ghaz and the team filming on set


How do you think the media and film industry has changed in the last 10 years and what are some of the main issues you are seeing from within? 

I think like most industries, the film and media industry has been evolving to try and be more inclusive. I say try because even though we are now finally being vocal about representation and diversity in the industry, we still have a long way to go to get it away from the ‘old (white) boy’s club’ of yesteryear. The problem, like with other industries, has always been money - women director’s can’t be trusted with big budgets; PoC focused films won’t bring in money; and other nonsense. There are thankfully now new initiatives coming out but for every new initiative, another new wall will go up too (what is it with walls these days?). For example, an organisation may set up a new training program for women directors but the next month all their funding goes into projects helmed by male directors. Or a funding body may be all about encouraging diverse practitioners but they’ll suddenly fund a film about a brown woman told by two white guys.

Tell us a bit about your doctorate research. Why did you choose the topic?

My PhD thesis is with a creative component - my feature screenplay At the End of the World which focuses on two young Iranian women who grew up in Auckland. I already had a draft of the screenplay so decided to develop my thesis around that. My focus is on films made in the Iranian diaspora from 2007-2017 and it explores the similarities they have thematically particularly the way they celebrate a sense of hybridity and ‘Iranianness’. My focus is not on cinema made in Iran but by those who live elsewhere and so negotiate this hybridity. Much like myself.

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Sometimes when you meet someone who is an expert in their industry, you start questioning yourself. If you found your calling and stuck with it, how can I do the same. How do I figure out what my “calling” is. What do you think about your personal “calling” and what advice would you have for someone who might be a bit lost? 

I don’t know if I believe in callings to be honest. Unless you’re a priest. It is a good question though as growing up I was adamant I knew what I would do with my life. I was career focused and knew exactly what I wanted. It’s all rubbish. I dropped out of Uni twice; worked random jobs all through my 20s and early 30s; lived in various parts of the world never settling and even now, on the verge of finishing a PhD, wonder if academia is for me. I think it is important to have dreams and goals but also know that they can change and that is OK. 

Creative expression is not a straightforward endeavour. Could you please share with us some of the main challenges you have faced writing your thesis and working in film?

I think most people who take on creative careers are unstable in some way. I don’t mean this in a negative way but it really is a route that you can only take if you’re passionate about it. Just last year I was really keen to give it all up, get a ‘real job’, save for a house and find a husband. I just didn’t want to continue living in a way where you are constantly applying for funding, never in a stable environment and forever questioning your abilities and talent. Then this year I thought, nah I can do this nomadic, unemployed thing for a while yet. See, unstable. It’s not for everyone but neither is working 9-5 and buying a house.

Would you have any recommendations for someone who might be interested in doing their PhD or pursuing a career in film? How should they get a taste for what it is like? 

For both, I would say only pursue it if you really want to. Then do it for as long as you care about it because you also need to know when to get out. There’s nothing sadder than meeting a disillusioned bitter creative who is forever moaning about all the funding they never received for all the work they have yet to create. I went the academic route which is great if you like that - I made good contacts and made some of my own work. Others go the work way - be a runner on set, email people in the industry, get some experience and make your own work. Join a guild. Do classes. Volunteer. But do not expect success overnight. That is a complete fallacy. Even the big young stars who you think suddenly became big overnight have probably been hustling since the womb.

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What were the most valuable things you have done throughout your personal and professional journey that had changed the way you think about things? 

Because I worked so many different jobs and lived in different places I learned to adapt quickly. I then learned what an important skill that was in dealing with different jobs and people. I’m also learning to not overthink things. Rejection becomes an everyday thing and you can never like it but you learn to deal with it. I’m also trying to surround myself with good people who have similar values and ignore the time wasters. 

What are some of the films that inspire you or your work? Or some of the films that you think changed the industry?

I know I should say something like the works of Agnes Varda or Stanley Kubrick (both who I love) but honestly, for me, one of the films that really changed the game for me was Bend it Like Beckham. Yes it was entertaining which can be hard to get right, but it was also the first time I saw faces like mine in a mainstream film. It was also the first time I saw someone making fun of their culture but also showing it love from an authentic place. This is why I and others keep banging on about getting representation. You never know the impact it can have.

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And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here? 

I’m in awe at some of the younger people I’ve met and worked with who are defying what it means to be millennial or whatever the hell the new term is. Artists like Vanessa Crofskey, Amanda Jane Robinson and Jahra Rager Wasasala. I’d also like to know more about Rez Gardi.

Elina Ashimbayeva