Aspiring Film Student Faces Online Abuse For Graduate School GoFundMe

Aspiring Film Student Faces Online Abuse For Graduate School GoFundMe
Abdullah Shahid, a film director and teacher from Lahore, has become the target of online abuse and hate for starting a GoFundMe to raise funds for his graduate education. He was accepted into New York University’s prestigious film MFA graduate program, with a total cost of approximately $300,000.

Shahid is a graduate of Pomona College, where he studied Film and Theater and was the recipient of the college’s Scott Winslow Award in Media Studies and The Virginia Princehouse Award in Drama. New York University has awarded Shahid a 50% merit scholarship for $35,000, but he finds it “unfathomable” to fund the cost of his degree. According to his GoFundMe page, Shahid wants to “tell the stories that often go unrepresented on the big screen.”

Having returned to Pakistan to contribute to film making in the country, Shahid teaches film at an IB Diploma Program high school in Lahore. His portfolio includes multiple short films, including Mujrim (2022), Janaaza (2019) and Catfish (2023).

The Pakistan Twittersphere had mixed reactions to Shahid’s GoFundMe, with the director becoming the victim of virulent online abuse for his aspirations to pursue graduate education in film.

While many, including Al Jazeera’s Alia Chughtai and Puffball Studio’s Arafat Mazhar wished Shahid luck with raising funds for his education, many Twitter users reacted with malicious comments and abuse.

Many Twitter users accused Shahid of being “greedy,” and “selfish and shameful,” for aspiring to attend graduate school for film when the country is in dire economic straits.

While students who had attended university abroad were empathetic to the rising cost of higher education, many were quick to label Shahid’s aspirations to pursue film “useless,” suggesting that they would “understand if it was for medicine or engineering.”

Some Twitter users actively dissuaded others from donating, suggesting that these donations do not qualify as “sadqa,” while one Twitter user suggested that renowned directors such as Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher did not attend film school or had dropped out.

Speaking to The Friday Times, Shahid said that creating the GoFundMe “was a last resort. I had exhausted all my other options – including my immediate and extended families. I had reached out to a number of foundations, but found no alternate sources of funding. Even the HEC did not have a program I could have sought funding from.”

He added “it is a little disappointing that the vast majority of the online hate I am getting is for dreaming too big. The most common refrain I hear is that I should dream smaller, and aim within my means. That art and film are too useless as degrees to spend such a large sum of money on... in the last few years, the few pieces of art that have managed to make it to the frontline have blown up and represented Pakistan in ways that no one could have thought of.”

Shahid expressed frustration with how art and film are seen as hobbies, rather than professions: “as more and more people dare to jump into the art scene, the more resistance they are faced with by their own community. Frequently, they are asked to go for a more ‘useful’ degree or occupation - often doctors and engineers are cited as the most useful members of society despite the large number of people in these professions struggling to find employment. In contrast, Pakistani art has been providing solace, entertainment and moments of reflection that we desperately require in this country going through the most difficult time in its short history.”

On representing Pakistani stories in film, Shahid said that “Pakistani stories rank the lowest in the representation they get in global cinema. For years, we have been restricted to negative and stereotypical representations of Pakistan, and only recently has the tide begun to turn. In our country, it is assumed that art is nothing more than a hobby and should be treated as such rather than a profession or a career, and thus there are scores of people who give up on their passions out of sheer frustration, lack of resources or societal and familial pressure.”

In a country beset by a baffling number of seemingly intractable crises, and a terrible healthcare system despite the extraordinarily large number of medical graduates, the arts and culture has been Pakistan’s saving grace. Pakistani artists and filmmakers have helped to put Pakistan on the global cultural map, but it is disappointing to see a filmmaker and aspiring student being so widely targeted for seeking to make art.

Shahid said “Art is where people look to find community, to find inspiration and to find something to believe in. It is the only thing that gives me momentum to continue believing and living and creating. All of us are bustling with stories and tales we want to explore and are just looking for that medium to embrace. If the world can do it, why not us?”