Speculative Fiction, 15 minutes, Shot on Arri Alexa
Surrounded by the domesticity of everyday life Sultana; an Asian-American woman; has a dream where she is visited by Sara; a woman from the future. Together they embark on a journey into the dream city of Ladyland "a sort of gender-based Planet of the Apes” where women are dreaming utopias. This journey across time and space will transform Sultana in surprising ways. Will she ever return?
The morning of Jan 1st 2015, I had a dream. I was untethered, flying in my spirit through a ruin. That spirit chanced upon a 1905 feminist utopia written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain titled, Sultana's Dream. Rokeya was a Muslim feminist writer and social reformer who lived in British India. Sultana's Dream is one of the earliest examples of feminist science fiction, and is a sort of gender-based Planet of the Apes where the roles are reversed and the men are locked away in a technologically advanced future. I heard Rokeya's voice as I read the story several times because the intimacy of the 'secret' world of Muslim women, a world that was always subversive and open to radical possibilities, was the world I was born and raised in.
I was fascinated to learn that a new exhibit at the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG), University of Rochester, New York, was celebrating Sultana’s Dream. But what I saw there reminded me of the ways in which Muslim women from South Asia continue to be invisible. This erasure was painful and heartbreaking because all of us desire to be seen. As Mara Ahmed writes about the exhibition, "What stunned me in the discourse I encountered online was the complete erasure of Rokeya Hossain’s identity as a Muslim woman. There is no mention of her religion, whereas [the artist who created this exhibition] is explicitly described as being ‘born and raised in a Hindu Indian immigrant family in Brooklyn and Queens. This erasure is particularly painful and symbolic at a time when Islam is strategically advertised as misogynistic and Muslim women stereotyped as submissive and in need of ‘saving.’ Invisibilizing Muslim women, especially feminist trailblazers such as Hossain, by jettisoning parts of their identities and political provenance, is not just negligent, it’s damaging".
I asked myself, to claim Sultana's Dream as a feminist utopia, why should Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's identity as a Muslim woman be erased? I wrote the sci-fi adaptation in my head as I walked home, trying to transform my own trauma of being invisible into joy. I cast and created this project with an awareness that a radical reconfiguring of our world; a world where brown and black bodies get seen in all their intersectional possibilities; can only happen in radical ways.
University Film and Video Conference, 2021
Credits: Producer, Writer-Director & Editor
Cast: Rina Joya Dutta and Jennifer Mogbock
Cinematographer: Jacob Mallin
Assistant Director: Joey Harris
Sound Recordist: Isaiah Gates
VFX: Kevan Beemsternoer, Grant MacWilliams, Aileen Modesto