A Jordanian filmmaker and producer are fighting stereotypes about Muslims with the help of virtual reality films on Islamic history.
"We've been producers and filmmakers for over 10 years but we never thought that we will go into entertainment until we were in Disney," Samah Safi Bayazid told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Bayazid is co-owner of LightArt Media Productions and Light Art VR, a company she describes as "for Islamic entertaining virtual reality experiences.”
The idea for VR films about Islamic culture came when she and her husband were visiting the theme park. "We were having so much fun,” she said.
"Why don't we have as Muslims, anything fun like this?” she wondered.
"What if we can tell our stories and our heritage? And the Islamic history in a super entertaining way, using cutting edge technology, we develop our software,” she said.
Bayazid said her company has "achieved the goal of entertaining and still educating people.”
The company produces films in eight languages, including Turkish, has four VR films about Islamic heritage, and is producing a fifth and sixth within the next year.
The 33-year-old was in Istanbul to attend a two-day conference hosted by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), an Istanbul-based women's advocacy group, together with Türkiye's Family and Social Services Ministry.
The theme of the fifth International Women and Justice Summit was "Cultural codes and women," with Anadolu Agency serving as the event's global communication partner.
"I'm here to talk about the image of women and the presentation of women in the media,” Bayazid told AA on the sidelines of the summit.
"I've worked in this industry for over 12 years and living in the U.S. I see how the way women, specifically Muslim women, are being represented in the media directly affects how we are being treated and this sometimes causes Islamophobia,” she added.
Bayazid cited the importance of "telling our stories as a Muslim producer and filmmaker” and said she will be talking about the importance of telling the stories of Muslim characters.
Along with her husband Muhammad, Bayazid founded Light Art VR five years ago. "We decided that we want to produce entertainment for Muslim audiences around the world,” she said.
They started producing a Virtual Reality computer-generated company to show 8k resolution films "that take you back in time 1,400 years ago, to witness the story of Islam,” she said.
The director based in Washington also discussed reactions from audiences. "So, we have completed two different reactions because we have our Muslim audience and non-Muslim ones.”
Muslim audiences, she said, were "screaming, laughing, crying,” when they watch the company’s films.
Non-Muslim audiences had similar reactions but were surprised to learn facts about Muslim culture they did not know until watching the film.
"We did our project in New York just to share our Islamic culture," she said. "They loved it and they said 'we didn't know all this information because it's very informative.”
"For example, they thought that Islam is a religion of violence. They told us that before watching our VR experiences they thought that women are second-class citizens in Islam and they are controlled by men,” she said.
"It's one of the reasons to educate people and to tell them about our Islamic heritage and culture, to tell our own story and on our narrative,” said Bayazid. "Because we're not going let other people tell our story the way they want. It's our job to tell it the right way.”