Few viewers who have seen Hasan Minhaj‘s 2017 Netflix special ‘Homecoming King’ are likely to have forgotten the story of ‘The Daily Show’ correspondent’s prom date plans that went awry. As Minhaj told it, he excitedly arrived at the doorstep of his prom date Bethany’s home only to be turned away because of “how it would look” in the photos that would be eventually shown to Bethany’s grandparents and extended family.

In his new short film “Prom,” director Imran J. Khan hones in on the pathos and universality of Minhaj’s tale and the sting of discovering racism where one least expects it. Since its debut, “Prom” has garnered praise and its lead actor Jonah Aimz took home the Best Actor prize at NYU’s First Run Film Festival.

We had the chance to talk to Khan about the film, what it was like working with Minhaj, and how a South Asian culture show many years ago played a crucial role in their careers.

The Teal Mango: What about watching ‘Homecoming King’ made you want to adapt it to film?

Imran J Khan: Actually I hadn’t seen ‘Homecoming King’ before deciding to do this film. I had heard The Moth Radio Hour where Hasan tells the story and if you listen to it, he really just tells the prom story. I listened to it because Hasan sent it to me and I thought it would be a really interesting film. And then I asked him if we could use the story and he said ‘hey, let’s do that.’

TTM: Did you know Hasan before collaborating on this film? How did working together come about?

IJK: Hasan and I actually know each other from undergrad at UC Davis. We used to work together on comedy skits and YouTube videos.

TTM: How did you meet in school?

IJK: Hasan was a friend of my roommate’s freshman year, so I guess you could say we met through my roommate. And then there is an annual South Asian culture show they have every year and we did some comedic skits for that show. That was the first time we worked together.

TTM: I feel like coming together for the South Asian culture show makes this a classic college story.

IJK: (Laughs) It was. And then we just kept working together from there.

TTM: What did you study at UC Davis?

IJK: I studied engineering but I always knew that I loved film and that I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I had already started down the path towards engineering. So I started working at a company that made biological systems devices after graduating and I also made a short film in my spare time.

But I knew at a certain point that I had to decide whether to do film full time because I knew that I was never going to be able to do what I wanted to do in film on a part time basis. And my parents were part of that decision. They saw that I really wanted to try to do engineering, but that it wasn’t working for me. So by the time I was applying for MFA programs, they were really supportive. I ended up going to the Tisch Asia grad program in 2012, which in Singapore and is affiliated with NYU.

TTM: Where are your parents from? I feel like many South Asian parents have become more open to creative careers in recent years.

IJK: They are from Pakistan. It has definitely been evolving in recent years. I think it’s because there are more examples of successful South Asians who are doing things.

Hasan (Jonah Aimz) starts preparing for his date in ‘Prom.’ Image source: KQED

TTM: People like Hasan, for example.

IJK: My parents actually know Hasan because he’s been around the house. So the first time they saw him on ‘The Daily Show,’ when I showed them the clips they were like, ‘how did he get there?’ And I said, well. He’s been doing stand up and shows for years. He worked hard for this.’

TTM: By now, you’ve probably heard so many people say they identified with the prom story in ‘Homecoming King.’ Why do you think that story connected with so many people?

IJK: The way I saw it was that the story is a metaphor for being of an immigrant background and not being white. There’s a point where you realize that you are not part of the mainstream and people have to reconcile those two parts — being of an immigrant background and being American — for themselves. That resonates with people in a deep way.

TTM: ‘Prom’ has screened at several film festivals, what is next for you? 

IJK: Things are kind of under wraps right now, but I can say that I’m working on a feature film that I’m writing.

Actor Jonah Aimz plays young Hasan in ‘Prom.’ Image source: KQED

TTM: How involved was Hasan while you were making the film, did he see bits of it while it was in progress?

IJK: He saw it while we were working on it. He did mention that it was a surreal experience watching part of your life on screen. I think that would be true for anyone.

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