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Aminah: Success in Wisdom

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Aminah Bakeer  Abdul-Jabbaar, Filmmaker, Storyteller, Activist, Teacher

Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar, Filmmaker, Storyteller, Activist, Teacher

Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar, Filmmaker, Storyteller, Activist, Teacher

Kyle Frizol, Copy Editor

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Some are born to be politicians, teachers, doctors or even entrepreneurs; however, some are born to tell stories–to represent voices that would otherwise be unheard. Many individuals have followed this calling passionately and have changed the world around them. John Steinbeck provided a glimpse into the Great Depression, Walt Disney challenged traditional mediums and changed a generation’s perspective on entertainment and Maya Angelou gave strength to African Americans in an era of racism and prejudice. 

Just as storytelling legends of the past have dug deep into their greatest fears, some are heeding this responsibility today, no matter the burden. Cal State LA is currently home to one such storyteller and mentor: Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar.

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University, Aminah teaches a variety of classes to students including Ethnicity and Emotion in U.S. Film. In 2008, Aminah won the Lecturer of the Year award from the California Faculty Association, CSULA.

Beyond the classroom, Aminah is a filmmaker, storyteller and activist. Throughout the last decade, she has written and directed films such as “Personal Touch”, which won the Liddel Art Ward at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 2000, and “Bilalian”, which helped her to secure the Visionary Award at the Pan African Film Festival in 2002. She has worked on a film set as a Directing Intern for “The Young and Restless”, and has just recently released her latest project: “Muslimah’s Guide to Marriage”. 

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Aminah was one of eight children in her home. Her father, Donald Bakeer, the author of “Crips: The Story of the L.A. Street Gang from 1971-1985”, had taught her that her voice was the most important tool she had to express herself. 

“I have always been a person that told stories,” she said. 

Throughout her education at USC, where she received a B.A. in Cinema Television, and at UCLA where she received a M.F.A. in Film and Television Production, she worked alongside her professors, who have served as mentors and have shaped her into the storyteller that she is today.

She recalled one such mentor, Gyula Gazdag, who was her teacher at UCLA and taught her to overcome obstacles: 

“In order to get better at storytelling, you have to get into your fear,” she said. 

Without her mentors, she believed that she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has.

“You’ve got to have people that really push you,” she said.

On the set of “The Young and Restless”, she worked with Ed Scott, who “polished her”.

“He taught me how to be a boss—how to move like a boss.” 

As a Directing Intern alongside Scott, she had the ability to shadow and track (set up) her own scenes. Though her tracks were criticized by Scott transparently, she was encouraged to persevere past the fear of failure: 

“A good teacher encourages you to do more of the things that scare you.” 

It was during this time that she truly learned to humble herself:

“Be kind, your ego needs to be checked, listen, be critical,” she said.

Aminah’s mentors also include: Johnny Simmons, Debbie Allen, Euzhan Palcy and Nema Barnett.

While finishing her M.F.A at UCLA, Aminah’s thesis film was based on Muslims in L.A., which at the time were being threatened as a result of post-9/11 anger.

After finishing her thesis, Aminah’s films continued to reflect the realities of African American Muslim women. Her most recent film, “Muslimah’s Guide to Marriage”, focuses on the life of a Muslim bride who is struggling with her relationship and the expectations of her religion.

For a period of time, Aminah traveled to premieres and press events for her films. However, she began to realize that the constant traveling was exhausting. 

So, she made a call to West Los Angeles College and was offered an adjunct professor position. From there, Aminah moved to Cal State LA, where she has been a professor for a decade since then. 

At West L.A. College, she learned to work with scarcity:

“Not having resources can be a good thing,” she said.

Through her experiences in the industry, Aminah’s goal is to be a “professor-artist” for her students:

“I’ve been here for a decade (at CSULA); I can bring it to you. I am a practitioner basically. The industry has influenced how I teach.”

As Aminah continues to teach and inspire students at the University through her films, she questions student’s accessibility to education:

“Are we really making the schools accessible to everyone. Is it viable?” she asked.

Regardless, Aminah is thankful for the opportunities that she has been provided by the University:

“Thank you to this University for allowing me to be here. It has given me the opportunity to share what I love: film and television.”

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