Afghan American Actress, Political Refugee & Activist
Azita Ghanizada began her journey to the U.S. as a political refugee when her family fled Afghanistan to Washington D.C., where they gained asylum thanks to her father's work with the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Growing up, Azita’s days were spent picking up family members coming out of various refugee camps, touring various Civil War battlefields with classmates, hearing about the war at home from the international news, and learning English by watching TV alongside her mother. It was the world of television that captured her imagination and set her on a strictly tabooed and forbidden path for a girl from Afghanistan. Read More >
Diversity in Casting
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.
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.
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.
"Azita’s ability to call attention to things that have so long been overlooked in our industry is phenomenal. I’ve had the pleasure of both watching her engage in a small conference room amongst industry leaders and alongside her to a full theater of her peers. Her focus, her insights, her expertise come out effortlessly. As a storyteller, there is a flow and a rhythm that makes it easy for her to captivate her audience small or large."
"Ever since I met Azita, I was beyond impressed with her. Every time I meet up with Azita and learn more about her work in the entertainment industry, I increasingly admire her determination. When Azita speaks about her work and the work that still needs to be done in this area, I am so engaged. She is an extremely passionate and articulate woman, with the ability to explain her mission and inspire those around her all at the same time. She has been able to create massive change in the industry using light-hearted anecdotal humor and a soft engagement approach, which is extremely effective when trying to explain to others why a different approach is very much needed. Her experiences and what she has to say is very important to the world. Azita embodies the image of the strong MENA woman we need and uses her voice to change hearts, minds, and policy."
"As a leadership and inclusion strategist with over fifteen years in the arts and entertainment industries, I have had the privilege of facilitating and appearing on scores of panels for film festivals, and industry organizations, as well as city, state and federal agencies. It was my great good fortune to meet Azita Ghanizada several years ago when we first worked together on a panel discussion. Azita immediately impressed me with an obvious passion and demonstrated dedication to issues of diversity and inclusion. Azita is a true joy as both a participant and as a discussion leader around the fight for visibility: as a woman, as a diverse woman and as someone who answered a much needed call to action for Middle Eastern North African performers. Her insights, her humor and her ability to engage any room is a testament to her strength as an advocate and storyteller. Highly focused and eloquent, Azita is able to remain connected to her audience and inspire through her stories. I offer this as my full and enthusiastic recommendation of Azita as she continues to empower people of all backgrounds, all identities and all abilities."