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September 28, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

There are artists who defy expectations, and there are artists who explode them. Nida Manzoor is the latter. When I first met her and she told me she wanted to make martial-arts-driven action comedies with Muslim characters, I thought she was joking. It was hard enough to make a piece of film or TV with Muslim characters in it that could fit neatly within the industry’s tried-and-tested genre boxes. To make something that ignored these boxes felt totally impossible. And yet she has just wrapped her debut feature, Polite Society, which does exactly what she set out to all those years ago, centering a young Muslim martial artist who longs to be a stuntwoman. Her first TV show, We Are Lady Parts, has already been a game changer—winning BAFTAs and Peabodys for its anarchic, hilarious portrayal of a Muslim female punk band. Nida’s fearless and joyful self-expression is making more space for those who had once fallen between the cracks. She’s stretching culture for all of us.

Ahmed is an Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor

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