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Shooting the Breeze with Actress Shabana Azeez

Meet Shabana, an in-demand, formally untrained, actor, musical comedian, voice-over artist, audiobook narrator and musician.

Intrigued? So was I, after witnessing the genius of The Coconuts (a musical comedy duo with screen writer/director Leela Varghese) and her incredible voiceover narration of Shankari Chandran’s Song of the Sun God

You may be familiar with Shabana’s work like In Limbo (ABC), Metrosexual (Network 9) and guest roles in ABC productions Utopia, The Letdown and Why Are You Like This? as well as The Hunting (SBS).

She also starred in Birdeater (which premiered at Sydney Film Festival, where it earned an Audience Award for Australian Narrative Feature and made its international premiere at SXSW Festival), featured in Triple Oh! (Winner, Luna De Valencia Best Series Grand Jury Award) and soon will be voicing the lead character in upcoming animated comedy feature Lesbian Space Princess.

Let’s get to know Shabana.

Written by Romayne Perera with Shabana Azeez

What aspects of your personality will you always fiercely protect?

I was a bit of an ugly duckling growing up so I had to be funny to make friends and now I’m quite funny. If someone took my sense of humour away from me I would have a complete identity crisis.

Who or what has influenced the way you live your life?

I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron last year, and it completely changed my brain. 

I grew up with a lot of shame around my love of the arts, and it wasn’t seen as a viable career option by my family (it’s very competitive and very financially risky). I didn’t realise how much internalised shame and embarrassment I had about my job until a full five years into my career.

I didn’t realise how much these negative feelings had impacted the quality of my work (and my life!) and this book massively helped to clear mental blocks around art and creativity.

How do you build community in your work and personal life and why is this so crucial for a South Asian Female Creative…in Australia?

Building community is so important, especially in this industry! I’m very conscious not to be competitive with other women and South Asian creatives, especially as an actor, where you’re constantly pitted against people who would otherwise be your community.

Rejecting the competitive nature of the industry and choosing to build community instead has been so healing for me. I think it makes a career more sustainable because being part of a community makes you a happier, healthier person. 

The friendships I’ve made along my journey are the most empowering, fruitful, beautiful relationships of my career (and life!) Learning to hold value for each other and learning how valuable we are for each other makes us better collaborators and strengthens our support systems in our community. That’s why ASAC and other spaces like it are so wonderful.

You’ve said you’re passionate about telling stories that push the envelope. From the incredible list of stories you’ve told, shared or participated in, which one(s) have pushed the proverbial envelope the farthest and why is this important to you?

Birdeater, the feature film that took me to South by Southwest (SXSW), pushed the envelope in so many ways. 

The film deals with issues like coercive control, which is a particularly insidious kind of emotional abuse, so it was terrifying to tackle but I’m proud that it’s contributing to conversations about masculinity and Australian culture. 

I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to explore these themes with depth and nuance. So often, depictions of abuse on screen rely on oversimplified stereotypes. Men are portrayed solely as monsters, women as helpless, faultless angels. Birdeater muddies these waters and makes everyone flawed and complex. I hope it makes audiences think twice when they dismiss real life instances of abuse as ‘too complicated’. 

The response to the film has been fascinating because it’s so polarising. As an artist, it’s been so eye-opening. All I can hope is that people take away a clearer idea of what abuse, in all its insidious, quiet, covert forms, looks like.

What’s your next fantastic feat?  

My friends Leela Varghese (the other half of The Coconuts) and Emma Hough-Hobbs are making an animated feature film called Lesbian Space Princess! I can’t say too much just yet but I can promise it’s incredible and so fun to work with a diverse team, with such distinct voices and visions. Everyone is going to love it.

I also just finished a round of development funding for my music project, Yasmin Manne. It’s baby fresh right now but the plan is to create a sound (with the guidance of a mentor and ethnomusicologist) that is reflective of me as a first-generation South Asian Australian and to start releasing some of my music in 2025! I’m so scared and excited I could burst. 

Please don’t burst, Shabana! We need you to keep making more incredible and important work and enjoy your genius in the multitude of mediums you are present across!

Follow the super talented Shabana Azeez on Instagram: @shabazeez

Visit her website:  shabanaazeez.com

15 Apr: Must See South Asian Comedians: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Nine winners were revealed from a shortlist of 40 finalists across the categories of Content Creator, Community & Advocacy, Business & Entrepreneurship, Sports & Fitness, Arts & Culture, STEM, Journalism & Literature, International (based overseas) and Global Impact (based in Australia).

14 Apr: What Does Art Do To You? Meet Dance Performer Deepa Mani

In today’s member highlight, we’re delighted to introduce Jess Singh, a film producer and creative. Jess has been making a significant impact in the world of film, working on numerous narrative short films and cultivating her growing interest in documentary filmmaking.

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