Geraldine Viswanathan in 'Hala'. (Photo: AppleTV+)
Geraldine Viswanathan in 'Hala'. (Photo: AppleTV+)


4/5 Stars


Seventeen-year-old Pakistani American teenager Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) struggles to balance desire with her familial, cultural and religious obligations. As she comes into her own, she grapples with a secret that threatens to unravel her family. 


When it comes to the way anyone lives their life, I was taught that it’s discouraged, even prohibited, to pass judgement in Islam. So let me begin by saying my opinion of this film has nothing to do with the character in it or her choices, versus me and mine, and everyone else’s. But perhaps that’s the overarching theme of the movie? Bear with me.

AppleTV+’s Hala tells the story of a Pakistani Muslim girl living in America with her family while she struggles to balance her religious beliefs as she comes into her own. In many ways, I can relate to Hala. Though I may have grown up in a more liberal Muslim household – I can still remember being scolded by my mom for not waking up for Fajr (morning prayers) and told, as a Muslim girl, I shouldn’t be out too late. 'What will people think?' was a regular theme at home.

But, to be honest, it was good to see all those little things play out on screen. As a Muslim, it’s refreshing when the representation of Hala is of a girl who wears Vans and skateboards with her modest clothing and headscarf, and not one that fits into any extreme of the terrorist or the oppressed.

But I digress.

The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary. Just like most other coming-of-age films, it deals with friendship, love, sexuality and self-discovery. And with props to Geraldine Viswanathan, whose resounding performance as Hala highlights the struggle of those horrible teenage years even in the subtleties that see her brush off those comments from her mom.

But representation and a quietly moving performance weren’t the only components that made this ordinary story extraordinary. Three themes particularly stood out for me.

Firstly, the film didn’t revolve around a teen romance. From the trailer, it looks as though Hala will fall for Jesse and that will ultimately have her abandon her faith, but Jesse is just a footnote in her story. Jesse, played by Jack Kilmer, is also not your regular Peter Kavinsky or John Ambrose. He’s a flawed, teenage boy; for lack of a better word, he’s real. Which brings me to my next point.

Hala’s hero in this film isn’t the non-muslim, white boy she has a crush on. It’s an unsuspecting hero – and, personally, it was the only hero that made sense to me. The story comes full circle with a hug from her mom, who’s had a very different upbringing and life to Hala. And seeing her Urdu-speaking mom (I must mention having most of the film in Urdu, again, made this story so much more authentic of the Muslim experience) letting her know everything would be okay, was a very important moment for girls and women to see.

Finally, there’s the controversial ending that brings me right back to where I started. Again, I can’t begin to accurately tell you what is or isn’t part of Islam or the Muslim experience, and neither can this film. We probably needed to see so much more of Hala battling with her beliefs versus her self for the conclusion to make complete sense. Still, the underlying theme is there in a fleeting moment when Hala goes off to college, performs her daily prayers, before removing her headscarf.

I understand this is not every Muslim woman’s experience, but it is for some. And even so, I loved that they tried to show that Hala didn’t have to lose her faith when she found her freedom.

There were so many complexities that made Hala a challenging film for me to review, but even with it’s apparent ordinariness, this story had so many nuances that made it different to any other teen drama I’ve seen. And seeing a Muslim girl, who looks just like me, cut through the middle of the screen on a skateboard, well that was arguably the best part. 



(There are some Apple TV + shows that are free right now (here's a run down). That means that, if they're available in South Africa, all you have to do is enter your free Apple ID to watch. As for other shows and movies, you can sign up for a 7-day free trail.)

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