Parvez Sharma is an award winning, New York-based writer and filmmaker. His first feature, “A Jihad for Love,” which he directed and produced, is an international phenomenon with more than 8 million viewers in fifty plus nations within the first few years of its release. Utne Reader has named Mr. Sharma one of its “50 Visionaries who are Changing your World” in a list lead by the Dalai Lama. “A Sinner in Mecca” is his second film.
“A Jihad for Love” has been premiered at most major international festival venues, including a world premiere at Toronto in 2007 and a 2008 European premiere (as the opening film of the prestigious Panorama Documentary section) in Berlin. The winner of seven international awards, the film has been released theatrically across the US and in Canada and is still being broadcast on TV screens around the world. This documentary deals with the difficult themes of Islam and homosexuality in a post-September-11 world, and also seeks to challenge many stereotypes around Islam in a time when much of the religion and its one billion followers are misrepresented and misunderstood. The film has generated an international media blitz with The New York Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, The Guardian, The Times of London, the Independent, Der Speigel, Stern, Newsweek, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International, BBC, CNN, PBS, SBS, ZDF, CBC, National Public Radio, al-Arabiya and hundreds of other media outlets, writing about and profiling Mr. Sharma’s work. He has variously been hailed as a “gifted filmmaker” (Wall Street Journal), “frankly brave” (NPR), “provocative” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “an apostate” (South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council). He has been interviewed on more than 200 radio stations worldwide.
Even though his film has been banned in Singapore and parts of the Middle East and has led to theological condemnation in many countries, Mr. Sharma has become a leading spokesperson on defending Islam yet being able to speak for urgent reform, as a Muslim. He has conducted more than 200 live events across the world, talking about Islam and, in part, its relation to homosexuality.
Co-produced with five international broadcasters–France’s ARTE, Germany’s ZDF, US-based Logo, Australian SBS, the British Channel 4–and the Sundance Documentary Fund and Katahdin Foundation, the film has also brought together a historic coalition of foundations and individual donors, making it one of the best-funded documentaries of recent times.
In 2009 he was invited as a keynote speaker to the United Nations in Geneva during the controversial “Durban Review Conference”. The same year he also addressed one of the world’s largest gatherings of LGBT activists at the “Gay Games” in Copenhagen. He also conducted workshops around the film with German parliamentarians in Berlin and was invited to screen and workshop the work by the European Union and in the US by the Department of Homeland Security for its immigration staff.
Most recently he was invited as keynote speaker by the US Department of State and conducted a workshop for officials from various branches of the US government about LGBT issues in the Middle East and in other Muslim nations. This was followed by a keynote event and workshop at the US Department of Homeland Security in December 2012.
By 2011, Parvez had conducted live events and screenings in many Muslim nations and capitals ranging from Beirut, Lebanon (where he traveled with producer Sandi DuBowski, also continuing their unprecedented Jewish-Muslim collaboration and dialogue, in one of the most divided nations in the world) and Istanbul, Turkey, to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, the film did an unprecedented 8-city tour to widespread acclaim and much condemnation. The film also thrived underground, with private screenings of smuggled DVDs. Even Latin America has engaged significantly with the film: a multi city tour in Mexican theaters used the film as a tool for advocacy in deeply religious communities in that country.
In 2009 Parvez reported actively about the aborted “Green Movement” in Iran using first hand accounts and interviews with friends in Tehran and often giving readers of The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast an unprecedented look into the workings of a popular uprising. This work lead to frequent media appearances on FOX, MSNBC, BBC and NPR.
In early 2011 Parvez blogged about the revolution in Egypt, providing a local perspective on international events. His commentary and interviews with friends on the streets of Cairo provided an intimate, detailed view of history, as the events unfolded. He spoke about the nature and extent of social media influence in the Middle East to press across the world, including interviews with powerful newspapers in China, including the South China Morning Post and interviews on various US networks including CNBC.
He has been a featured speaker at more than 40 college campuses in the US, which include Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Harvard, Syracuse, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. He has been most proud of what he calls his “Bible Belt Tour” across the southern states in the US speaking directly to issues around LGBT rights (or the lack thereof) within conservative Christian communities. He is also a leading commentator on Islamic, racial and political issues, with his writings appearing on The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Guardian (Online), CNN-IBN (India) and other popular websites.
He is engaged in a nationwide speaking tour, current and forthcoming writing (including a forthcoming book about his recent, important and provocative work in the very heart of Islam also called “A Sinner in Mecca”) and in pre-production for a new film, partly set in his home country, India. Premier literary agent, Sterling Lord Literistic represents Parvez as an author.
In the US he has been represented by premier speakers’ agency The Lavin Agency whose clients include some of the most prominent New York Times-bestselling authors, Pulitzer prizewinners, politicians, actors, historians and investigative reporters in the world. He wrote the forward for the controversial anthology ‘Islam and Homosexuality’ (Praeger, 2009). He has been interviewed for, quoted and profiled in various high profile books and anthologies, most recently about his unique perspectives on being a Muslim, on the “Arab Spring” and on his call for a “Jihad” of reformation within 21st-century Islam in esteemed journalist Robin Wright’s ‘Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World’. Internet guru Cole Stryker’s recent book ‘Hacking the Future: Privacy, Identity and Anonymity’ on the Web extensively uses interviews with Parvez about his reporting of the Middle East while making its case for the use of social media during the Arab Spring. Michael Luongo’s ‘Gay Travels in the Muslim World’, which became the first book of its kind to be translated into Arabic, featured a chapter written by Parvez.
He has previously worked as television journalist in India and the UK, most notably for India’s largest 24-hour news television network, NDTV. He also worked with the independent Democracy Now! (In New York) as a Producer, and as a print journalist in India and the US for many prominent publications.
He has three Masters degrees and was educated in India, the UK and the US and has also been an adjunct professor at American University, developing and teaching, amongst other courses, that university’s first curriculum on Bollywood and other Indian cinemas. He also teaches New Media at Pace University in New York. His work continues to be cited extensively in numerous academic journals and used on college campuses nationwide. The US-based magazine Out has named Mr. Sharma one of the “Out 100” for 2008–”one of the 100 gay men and women who have helped shape our culture during the year.” He writes regularly on his popular blog and is the winner of the prestigious GLAAD media award for Outstanding Documentary in 2009. Parvez serves on the advisory boards of several organizations including the Human Rights Watch LGBT Program and All Out (an affiliate of Avaaz, a global campaigning network bringing people powered politics to decision making worldwide).