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February 22, 2017
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Pakistani-American cinematographer shares journey of battling sexism, carving her niche

KARACHI. It’s a boy club, they said. You won’t fit in, they warned her. But, Nausheen Dadabhoy’s zeal to turn her passion for cinematography into a career did not deter her in anyway. To prove her mettle, she fought it all to make her mark in the field.

Dadabhoy, known as ‘only female cinematographer of Pakistan’, has worked on a number of projects including Oscar-nominated short film La Femme et le TGV [Railroad Lady], Pakistani television serial Jackson Heights and directed the movie Ground Beneath Their Feet. 

“Cinematography is very much a boys club, and it’s also important to note that it is a white boys club. Women make up only make up 2% of the working cinematographers in the US. Women of colour are an even smaller number, so I had to overcome two challenges, but I turned these challenges into opportunities as best as I could,” said the Pakistani-American while speaking to Geo.tv via email.

Speaking about gender bias in the field, she remarked “Unfortunately, the culture of women having to work harder than their male counterparts is probably universal,” she said.

Shooting Women: Behind the Camera, Around the World details a time Dadabhoy was scared to shoot a scene for her first feature in Pakistan while sitting on a crane. However, she went ahead with it so to ensure that she didn’t lose the respect of the all-male camera crew.

“In Pakistan, I had to work 100 times harder to prove that I could do what a male cinematographer could do, because the minute I showed any weakness it was attributed to my gender. However, people in Pakistan were more vocal about their lack of belief in a woman behind the camera, but sexism is present in the US as well,” she pointed out.

She feels that the women who want to pursue the field are intimidated by the gender disparity of the field. She shared how while teaching at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, Karachi, many of her female students were interested in cinematography. However, they would be intimidated as the male students immediately took over the camera.

Hoping to see more women carve their niche in this profession, Dadabhoy said, “I don’t want to be the only female cinematographer in Pakistan. I am okay with being a pioneer, but I can’t fight the patriarchy on my own.”

About her work, she said “I am often sought to shoot stories about women and people of colour because I might have a better understanding of how to portray them on the screen,” she said, adding “sometimes, I resent being hired for my gender or for the colour of my skin but I also like being able to tell stories of marginalised communities.”

Born and raised in Southern California, Dadabhoy comes from a “family of adventurers”, with roots in Gujrat, India, Burma and Pakistan. “I think all of these diverse environments integrated into the culture of my family. In every place I have ever lived part of me is blended into the fabric of that place and part of me is so foreign that it will always feel like a gaping hole.”

Dadabhoy got everyone’s attention after a movie she worked on La Femme et le TGV was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Short Film (Live Action). Interestingly, the film excerpt reads “Sometime life seems to pass at 300km/h” which also seems to apply to Dadabhoy, who is completely engrossed in her work and simultaneously working on a number of projects.

Speaking about the film, she remarked “[This movie] came to me at the perfect time in my career. I had done a series of bad projects and I started to doubt that I should continue to pursue this career. The team on this film and the experience of making it helped to renew my faith in filmmaking.”

The comic book nerd, whose favourite movies include Trainspotting and Star Wars, shared that she wants a Ms Marvel movie. “And I want someone to hire me to shoot it,” she added.

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