“Zarqa - a divorced, middle-aged Muslim woman - strives to reinvent herself… until her impulsive and vindictive personality gets in the way.”
Sound interesting? We think so too! This is the sneak-preview into Zarqa Nawaz’s new comedy series, ZARQA, set to launch May 13 on CBC Gem.
Creative Saskatchewan (among others) is proud to celebrate the arrival of this series, which was filmed right here in Regina, by local production company FUNdamentalist Films. We asked Nawaz to describe, in her own words, what the series means to her personally, and the community as a whole.
What’s your ‘why’ behind ZARQA?
“I crave stories that aren't part of the same sliver of Muslim life - immigration, terrorism, being a refugee, arranged marriage, or traditional immigrant parent/2nd generation child conflict. Television and film depict only a tiny slice of Muslim life, which only perpetuates stereotypes. I wanted to create a show of a middle-aged Muslim woman in hijab who takes agency over her romantic life. This type of story is rarely told. I'm acting for the first time and having a lot of fun playing a divorced woman ricocheting between jealousy and revenge.
Acting is a huge departure for me. I've been in intense acting courses for a year now and loving it. Being a showrunner has also been extremely rewarding. I honed the craft of writing for episodic television on Little Mosque on the Prairie but the next step after being a showrunner was for my company to own the next production and learn the nuts and bolts of making a show from the top to bottom - but you can’t do it alone. You have to build a team. I was very fortunate to have Claire Ross Dunn, Liz Whitmere, and Dawn Bird as producers. It was thousands of hours of unpaid work but we all learned what it took to bring a show to fruition. A short form web series is the perfect vehicle to learn the business. It has all the same elements as a larger show but small enough that you can manage all the pieces. It’s like being a CEO of a company. I’ve learned to write WGC contracts, to negotiate with agents, and to supervise post production. It’s been the hardest work of my life but the most rewarding. I feel that I’ve learned the skills and business to take the show to the next level.”
“I moved here after marrying my husband almost 30 years ago. I knew after I started having children that I wanted Saskatchewan to be my home. I grew up in Ontario so I’m not attracted to the 'big city'. As a woman, if you want to have a family and a career, Saskatchewan is the place to be. I don’t want to spend my life stuck in traffic or commuting on subways and trains. I’ve had that life and it’s exhausting. Saskatchewan offered me a lifestyle where I could have a career and kids and, most importantly, time to enjoy life.
Being able to create Little Mosque on the Prairie was the most incredible thing I’ve ever been able to do. Both Corner Gas and Little Mosque were the biggest commercial hits for CTV and CBC at the time and those shows gave the Canadian TV industry confidence that we can make sitcoms - and both of those shows came out of Saskatchewan. This province helped launch the industry. I’d like to be part of building the industry back to what it was during the ‘golden age’ and, in turn, bring more jobs and money into the economy. I see our neighbour Manitoba reaping the rewards of having a thriving film and television community and I want that for us here again. The arts are not just a powerful tool to tell stories, they also have significant value in terms of job creation, diversifying our economy and bringing back/training skilled labour. I’m confident we’ll have a renaissance of production in Saskatchewan again Inshallah.”
What’s coming down the pipeline for you next?
“I’ve written and recently released my first novel, Jameela Green Ruins Everything. It’s a sweeping satire about a disillusioned middle-aged Muslim woman who seeks out spiritual guidance from her local imam and accidentally becomes embroiled in an international terrorist group. I’ve resisted selling the rights to big American producers, much to my agent’s chagrin, because I’m convinced my company can produce it in Saskatchewan and we can prove to the world that we’re open for business again.”
Where can viewers go for more information?
You can find more information at zarqanawaz.com or on social media at:
Creative Saskatchewan’s relationship with Zarqa Nawaz began a couple of years ago, where we were pleased to support Nawaz with a market and export grant. It was the first time we gave our support to this unapologetically bold trailblazer in industry, but it certainly wasn’t the last – we’re so excited for her next adventure!
About Zarqa Nawaz
Zarqa Nawaz is a Canadian producer for film and television, a published author, public speaker, journalist, and former broadcaster. She created, wrote, directed, and produced episodes for the international CBC comedy series Little Mosque on the Prairie, which won a Gemini Award as well as Best International Television Series and Best Screenplay at the 2007 RomaFictionFest. The television series was inspired by Me and the Mosque, Zarqa’s ground-breaking National Film Board documentary which premiered at the Montreal International Film Festival, examining how patriarchal cultural traditions have become mixed up with theology.
In addition, Nawaz has sold four pilots to ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Studios, has written a bestselling comedic memoir, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (published by HarperCollins), was an advice columnist for The Globe & Mail, a broadcast personality for CBC Radio, the host of CBC Saskatchewan’s "The Morning Edition,” and anchored CBC Saskatchewan News at 6.
In addition to launching her new self-titled CBC Gem series in 2022, in which she stars, writes, and produces, Nawaz will also debut her new novel, Jameela Green Ruins Everything (Simon & Schuster Canada in Canada, and Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in the U.S.). The new book is a satire about a disillusioned American Muslim woman who becomes embroiled in a plot to infiltrate an international terrorist organization and, in the process, reconnects with her loved ones and her faith.
A frequent public speaker on Islam and comedy, Nawaz received a Doctor of Divinity from the University of Saskatchewan for her interfaith work in the community. In recognition of her contribution to the world of arts, she received The Brampton Walk of Fame in 2019. Nawaz lives in Regina with her loving but long suffering family and is the proud mother of four children.
Steph Perron, BAE Communications