In June 2021, Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner Riz Ahmed and Pillars Fund’s Kashif Shaikh and Arij Mikati outlined the urgent need for more Muslim representation in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera, during an extensive interview with Variety.

The trio announced plans to launch a first-of-its-kind initiative, dubbed the Pillars Artist Fellowship, with a mission to provide resources and mentorship to a group of talented Muslim artists to help them use their talents to change the game in the film and television industries. Today, Pillars Fund, Ahmed and his Left Handed Films banner unveil the inaugural cohort of fellows.

“We spent months getting to know many talented candidates,” stated Shaikh, Pillars Fund’s co-founder and president. “We are honored to work with these incredible artists and are excited to provide them resources to reach even greater heights in the coming year.”

Sponsored by Netflix and Amazon Studios, the fellowship offers unrestricted $25,000 awards to 10 emerging Muslim directors and screenwriters, seven from the U.S. and three from the U.K. The filmmaker’s expertise spans genre and medium, including fellows with experience in documentary, short film and feature film.

The 2022 Pillars Artist Fellows (pictured above, from left to right) are: Fateme Ahmadi (director, London); Zeshawn Ali (director, New York); Aqsa Altaf (director, Los Angeles); Nausheen Dadabhoy (director, New York); Imran J. Khan (director, Los Angeles); Karim Khan, (writer, Oxford, U.K.); Myriam Raja (director, London); Nadra Widatalla (writer, Los Angeles); Farida Zahran (director, New York); and Ali Imran Zaidi (writer, Los Angeles).

In addition to the financial award, the fellowship comprises eight months of programming, including retreats in London, New York and Los Angeles, where the filmmakers will receive mentorship from industry veterans including A24’s Sydney Coleman and Hilary Tholen; Netflix’s Aaron Janus, Kauveh Khozein Carrera and Dan Silver; Sky’s Gabriella Kramer-Khan; screenwriter Jessica Sharzer; and cinematographer Bradford Young.

“There were hundreds of strong applicants from which this inaugural class of bold new voices was selected, crystallizing our belief that rectifying and reimagining Muslim representation in film means empowering Muslim filmmakers,” added Ahmed and Left Handed Films’ Allie Moore.

“The talent is out there,” they continued. “Through the Pillars Artist Fellowship, they will be supported in creating freely, navigating industry barriers, and building a community of peers and allies. We’re thrilled to see how their work will grow with the creative support and financial resources granted by the Fellowship, and the generosity of our sponsors, advisory board members, and creative allies.”

Ahmed serves on the initiative’s advisory committee, which is made up of fellow award-winning Muslim actors, directors, producers and writers who will help guide the fellows. Joining him are Bisha K. Ali, Mahershala Ali, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Yann Mounir Demange, Lena Khan, Nida Manzoor, Hasan Minhaj, Nijla Mu’min, Jehane Noujaim, Bassam Tariq and Ramy Youssef.

“Muslims are the most racially and geographically diverse faith group in the world, and our inaugural cohort of Pillars Artist Fellows span multiple identities across race, age and gender and represent a range of experiences in their storytelling and points of view,” shared Mikati, Pillars Fund’s managing director of culture change. “We are particularly proud to have six women among our ten fellows, who will bring an incredibly needed and valuable voice to writers’ rooms and decision-making spaces across the industry.”

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Riffy Ahmed, Saleem Gondal, Justin Mashouf, Fawzia Mirza, Kashif Pasta, Tamer Shaaban and Samira Thomas were acknowledged as runner-up applicants. The endeavor is also supported by A24 and WarnerMedia.

To learn more about the Pillars Artist Fellows and for more information on the initiative, go to pillarsfund.org/artist-fellowship.

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Kashif Shaikh, Dr. Stacy Smith, Riz Ahmed, Arij Mikati and Al-Baab Khan pose for a portrait at PMC Studios on June 4, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Michael Buckner