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Azita  Ghanizada

Azita Ghanizada

Afghan American Actress, Political Refugee & Activist

Biography

Azita, a political asylum seeker, arrived in Hollywood with an incredible story of cultural backlash. She and her family fled Afghanistan to the United States and gained asylum in Virginia to escape the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Read More >

Having learned English watching TV, Azita had long dreamed of becoming an actress but her strict cultural upbringing prevented her from ever speaking her truth. Upon graduating from University, she bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood and never looked back. She quickly began appearing on several hit TV shows, and alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest talents. Soon, she became one of the first Afghan-Americans to lead a TV series in the USA. Refusing to play into Hollywood tropes for actors of Middle Eastern and South Asian decent on a regular basis, Azita’s path soon revealed that in order to see real movement and true unbiased representation for her community, she would have to disrupt Hollywood from the inside.

In 2016, she founded MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition (MAAC) to advocate and educate within the entertainment industry on behalf of Middle Eastern North African (MENA) performers and challenge the unnecessary stereotypes MENA performers endure. In 2017, she successfully lobbied SAG-AFTRA to include Middle Eastern North African (MENA) as its own diverse casting category. The first time in 37 years a new diversity category has been introduced into the TV/Theatrical contracts in Hollywood. In 2018, MAAC presented the first-ever study of Middle Eastern and North African performers on TV highlighting the lack of representation for MENA on PrimeTime TV, titled Terrorists & Tyrants.

As an actor, Azita is best known for her work alongside David Strathairn, Malik Yoba and Mahershali Ali as a primary cast member of the American Syfy Channel series Alphas. After the cancellation of Alphas, Azita went on to film the feature, Complete Unknown, opposite Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz. Complete Unknown premiered at 2016's Sundance Film Festival, where Azita was named "One of the Seven Must Know Actresses of Sundance," (2016). In 2017, she filmed Killroy Was Here the third and final installment of director Kevin Smith's horror trilogy and most recently wrapped a supporting role in The Friend (2020), opposite Casey Affleck. A few of her notable television guest-starring roles include How I Met Your Mother, Entourage, Veronica Mars, The Mentalist, Psych, Castle, Up All Night, 9-1-1. She recently recurred on HBO’s Ballers and is can currently be seen on the upcoming season of Good Trouble.

Azita actively speaks on representation and inclusion issues in the media, on social media, in business environments and on industry panels.  In December of 2019, she gave her first TEDxTalk at TedxNashville’s “Bold & Brilliant Women” conference.  She is also an impassioned advocate for women's rights, by co-hosting UNHCR fundraiser for World Refugee Day; or serving as a Global Ambassador for womenforwomen.org. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Overcoming Stereotypes

Diversity in Casting

Speech Topics

From Refugee to the Red Carpet: An Evening with Azita Ghanizada

As a young girl, Azita Ghanizada did not see other women from Afghanistan on TV, unless it was a news story about war. In this personal keynote, Azita will share personal stories on overcoming the many obstacles put in her way to follow her dreams. From refusing to accept the limited thinking that girls in the arts were shameful, to not shying away from her identity in a post 9/11 Hollywood. Azita will take the audience on a journey of grit, courage, resiliency, and share how she somehow changed the business for the generations that will follow her.

The Middle Eastern Woman You Don't Get to See: Shining a Spotlight on Diversity

She has had one of the most impactful roles in Hollywood, taking on the tired trope of the oppressed Muslim woman. In this talk, Azita examines how the images that we see over and over again on TV has shaped the Islamophobic culture we now live in. A society filled with fear and divisiveness, driven by negative media imagery of a people unknown. Azita shares her personal stories about navigating stereotypes and how she is fighting to create a culture of positive MENA representation in Hollywood and beyond.

The Grace of a Nation

In this poignant and timely talk, Azita reflects on the American way, a nation with free thinking and the power of choice. Although her own life would challenge her families cultural status quo, her experiences paled in comparison to the women left behind in Afghanistan. A critical and cultural look at her own life compared to the true story of another Azita and the other women who did not flee Afghanistan, the juxtaposition of their vastly different fates, and how the grace of a nation allowing her family to seek asylum within its borders dramatically changed the course of her life.