*This post of mine is published on Forbes Woman.*
Sexism in Hollywood is no secret, and things have gotten so bad that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged federal and state civil rights agencies to probe “the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry.” Just last month, two federal government agencies began investigating discrimination against women directors in Hollywood.
Considering these factors, it is no small feat that Anadil Hossain, the Bangladeshi-American woman behind Dillywood Inc., successfully brought some of the most diverse stories to our screens. The founder of her own production company based in New York, which develops and produces film projects with a “distinctly international focus,” Hossain (no relation to the author of this article) has been part of the production team behind award-winning films such as The Darjeeling Limited, The Namesake, Fair Game, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist amongst many others.
But Hossain’s resume also includes some of the biggest Bollywood blockbusters such as Kal Ho Naa Ho, Swades, and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. In fact, her ability to connect cultures and forge strong relationships between the world’s most influential film industries made Hossain one of the leading figures in the film world.
This year, she has three films which premiered in international film festivals with upcoming releases: Equals, a sci-fi romantic drama starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult (in theaters July 2016); This Changes Everything, a feature documentary on climate change based on Naomi Klein’s best selling book of the same title (to be released November 2016) and Shadow World, a feature documentary on the corruption of the global arms trade based on the acclaimed book by Andrew Feinstein (in theaters fall 2016).
Hossain is also co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Producers Guild of America, East (PGA).
I spoke with the woman behind so many films we know and love about her passion to bring cross-cultural stories to the big screen.
Anushay Hossain: Tell me about how your love of films developed?
Anadil Hossain: I was an avid moviegoer from a very early age. We moved to London when I was eight years old and going to the theatre was a ritual and novel experience for me. The entire experience of large screen, previews, concessions and the spectacle of the big screen enraptured me. Watching primarily Hollywood films as a child, my youth was dominated by classic blockbusters like ET, Jaws and The Indiana Jones series. I developed the taste for cinema as an art form beyond entertainment and my appetite grew to encompass more world cinema and auteurs.
Growing up next to one of the best repertory cinemas in London, The Everyman, I religiously watched double and triple bills of filmmakers like Jarman, Cronenberg, Lynch peppered with French new wave. I was equally intrigued by the voices of Asian directors such as Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Yimou Zhang, Ang Lee and Wayne Wang, who were bringing culturally rich narratives to a global audience.
Anushay Hossain: You’re an American-born Bangladeshi-British woman who made New York City her home. What role has reinvention played in your life?
Anadil Hossain: After college, I went back to London, working in corporate film for a couple years, but my passion was always to pursue [creative] film. I quit my job, left the comfort zone of my family and loved ones and made a completely fresh start in New York. With no grand plans or strategy, no contacts or family in New York City, I landed with a suitcase and most importantly a U.S. passport. That was all I needed. Throughout my career I’ve had to reinvent and adjust course to adapt to changing tides within the industry or economy. Not being beholden to the U.S. studio system and having a stream of international clients, I was able to avoid the pitfalls of a linear U.S.-centric career. Being open to opportunity and adaptable to the volatility of a business with no safety nets forced me to rethink, reshape and continue to reinvent myself. Ever evolving, I am now embarking on yet another chapter of my career different to anything I have done before.
Anushay Hossain: You work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and Bollywood. Tell me about how you literally built your own path to Dillywood Inc.?
Anadil Hossain: My first few years in New York were spent finding my way through the maze of internships, temping and working as a production assistant on small shoots. I was lucky to land a steady job at Newscorp early on as a corporate event producer, spending several years working under the corporate communications division doing international event planning while sneaking in an indie film at every opportunity.
Then 9/11 happened and it had a huge impact on the city, deeply affecting every industry and everyone. That was the year Bollywood came knocking on my door. In 2002, I accidentally ended up producing the U.S. segment of what became one of the most iconic Bollywood films of that era, Kal Ho Naa Ho, working with luminaries such as the late Yash Johar and his son, Karan Johar.
The success of that film opened the floodgate to more Bollywood productions coming to the U.S. and with my experience it positioned me ideally, leading me to establish Dillywood Inc. with my partner, Driss Benyaklef. In an unexpected twist of fate, this work led me to projects working on Hollywood films in India, and I soon became a leading expert and nexus between the two industries. Dillywood grew to become known as a go-to international production company, culminating in work in over 30 countries with award-winning directors like Doug Liman, Wes Anderson, Mira Nair, Karan Johar and Ashutosh Gowariker.
Anushay Hossain: You joked about the ruthless nature of the industry and its demands. Do you see yourself as the Olivia Pope of the film world?
Anadil Hossain: We as producers operate under a “by any means necessary” mindset at times. So the perception of our modus operandi is that we’d sell our first born to get the job done. Our ethics are often parodied within the industry. We are trained to tackle any challenge — the impossible is our day to day. Maintaining the balance of integrity, ethics and standards while pushing the boundaries and challenging the norms make us find creative solutions to creative problems. What delineates Dillywood is that we’ve been a small motley cast of characters who operate through inspired thinking and execution. We venture where many would not, approach things from a global perspective and always find a solution. I often go with the mantra: Dillywood…would you?
Anushay Hossain: Globalization and connecting the East and West is such a hot business model, especially with the success of Indian stars such as Priyanka Chopra in the U.S. But you were building international coalitions in the film world long before the rest. What do you want young women to know about the importance of being independent and self-reliant when it comes to their careers?
Anadil Hossain: Combined with passion and perseverance, identifying and leveraging your strengths and aptitudes is the key to any career path. I didn’t have any traditional mentors or roles models and coming from a hybrid of cultural, intellectual, political and aesthetic influences, I had to learn to be comfortable with these elements from an early age. This served me well as I ended up being a vanguard in my chosen field. Today’s generation, more than ever, are exposed to a myriad of things without having to venture far from home. It’s a highly competitive industry and with cross pollination of media, tech, entertainment and other industries, it’s more exciting and opportunity laden than ever.
For young people starting their professional creative journeys it’s important to be mindful of the practical side of any creative endeavor. Art and commerce must co- exist. To develop independence and self-reliance one has to have a clear sense of self identity, strength in accepting criticism, curiosity in wanting to always learn and improve and humility in never resting on one’s laurels. No career trajectory is steady and uphill. The highs are as exquisite as the lows, and it’s how you embrace them that defines you.
Anushay Hossain: So many people do not even know what a producer does. How would you describe the job?
Anadil Hossain: These are some of the words associated with “produce” in the dictionary: to manufacture, grow, give birth to, create. So in short, a producer does all things associated with giving birth to the kernel of an idea into a fully formed end product. From developing an idea, to selling the idea, bringing in the right talent and partnerships, fundraising, execution, distribution, marketing and everything in between. There are many different roles a producer plays and through one’s careers you grow into it with more experience and appetite. It is all encompassing multi-tasking, which on some days can feel like perennial child rearing – the chief cook-bottle-washer-mother-supernanny-maid-sleep-deprived-delirium-of-thankless-caretaking-nurturing. However, it is a chosen path and we get to wake up and orchestrate magic. To create and work with incredible talent and sometimes change lives through the power of storytelling.
Anushay Hossain: Hollywood has a notoriously terrible reputation when it comes to women and diversity. Tell me how Dillywood and your work with the Diversity Committee of the Producers Guild of America is helping to change this?
Anadil Hossain: Dillywood has diversity in its DNA – founded by a Bangladeshi/British/American and a Moroccan/Estonian, we bring a transcultural approach to everything we do. Our interest in global stories is what has driven our body of work, with the people we hire, to the projects we choose. We strive to bring our passion and unique perspective to all our work.
People often ask if I’ve faced discrimination in the male dominated industry culture of Indian cinema, whereas it has been much more an issue for me in Hollywood. For an industry based on creativity, there is a striking deficit of diverse thinking and execution. My large body of international work (produced in the U.S.) is hardly recognized by U.S .industry executives. What sits outside of their frame of reference appears to be invisible or irrelevant. Hollywood operates on an old world network and until that network more accurately reflects the heterogeneous global worldview of today they will miss out on tremendous opportunity. Luckily we are beginning to see the slow shift towards this direction.
The PGA continues to generate conversation and education around these topics through dialogue and partnerships. The U.S. discourse on diversity is different from other parts of the world so my role has been to bring that perspective through the Diversity Committee. One of the challenges is defining diversity as a concept — it’s such an umbrella term open to interpretation, that it can be lost in the equal opportunity, affirmative action slogans of yesteryear. It almost requires a revolution in the way people are talking and thinking about, it so part of our work is to make sure the right voices are in the room.
Anushay Hossain: What would you say has been the most influential period or person in your career?
Anadil Hossain: One of the most influential people in my career has been my longtime business partner/cohort Driss Benyaklef. He pushed me to establish Dillywood and operate as a small business rather than individual. He has always challenged me in my thinking, expanded my universe of knowledge and inspired creative ways to practice our craft. The most influential period was perhaps the early years when I started producing the large scale Bollywood films and unwittingly becoming an ambassador for the Indian film industry.
Anushay Hossain: What would your advice be to young women starting their own businesses?
Anadil Hossain: It’s important to take time to understand the business one is taking on and identify the core of your company culture and ethos. What defines and differentiates your business? Who are the competitors and strategic partners? How do you build and grow steadily?
Starting one’s own business is quite an endeavor and a great learning curve for life. Just setting up a business forces you to acquire fundamental skill sets applicable to many endeavors in life. Young women of today are thinking smart from early on in their careers and one of the key ingredients is to partner well. Finding the right solid, complementary partner/s is critical to success and sanity.
It takes an army and there is strength in numbers — even if it’s an army of two. Most importantly keep growing and be inspired. As soon as that stops, you know you are in the wrong business.
*This post of mine is also published on Forbes Woman.*