Apple makes its first Sundance buy with coming-of-age film ‘Hala’ from Jada Pinkett Smith

Apple made its first deal at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, with its acquisition of the global rights to a coming-of-age drama, “Hala.” The film, written and directed by Minhal Baig, and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl, Hala, raised in a conservative Muslim household, who develops feelings for a classmate that puts her at odds with her traditional upbringing.

The girl, played by Geraldine Viswanathan (“Blockers”), will also find herself grappling with the knowledge of a secret that threatens to unravel her family, according to a description of the film’s plot.

Other cast members include love interest Jesse (Jack Kilmer, “Palo Alto”); mother, Eram (Purbi Joshi); father, Zahid (Azad Khan); Gabriel Luna (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”); and Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”).

The movie itself is an expansion on a short film Baig made back in 2016, which was named to the 2016 Black List.

Baig herself hails from Chicago, and was chosen in 2017 as a directing mentee for Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative – Director Mentorship Program. She previously worked as a story editor on “Bojack Horseman,” and as a staff writer on the Hulu comedy, “Untitled Ramy Youssef Project.” She also worked on several shorts, including the precursor to “Hala,” “After Sophie,” and “Pretext,” as well as on music videos.

Of note, during production of the new movie, an inclusion rider was applied to bring women into many department head positions, and to 75 percent of critical below-the-line roles.

The film was co-financed and sold by Endeavor Content and produced by Overbrook Entertainment. “Hala” producers include Clarence Hammond, Jamal Watson and Minhal Baig, and executive producers Jada Pinkett Smith, Jana Babatunde-Bey, Marsha Swinton, James Lassiter, Caleeb Pinkett, Ari Lubet and Aaron Carr.

Apple has steadily been building up a slate of content for its forthcoming streaming service, set to launch this year. However, many of its deals to date have focused on TV series, not films.

It now has a long lineup of shows, including: a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” a Reese Witherspoon- and Jennifer Anniston-starring series set in the world of morning TV (which just added Steve Carell), an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” books, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer, another Witherspoon comedy (now minus Kristen Wiig), a Kevin Durant-inspired scripted basketball show, a documentary about extraordinary homes, a series from “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle, a series about Emily Dickinson, a new “Peanuts,” a comedy from the “It’s Always Sunny gang, Oprah stuff, kids content from Sesame Workshop, an M. Night Shymalan thriller, a sci-fi series from “Battlestar Galactica” creator Ron Moore, and many more.

But Apple has also started to pick up films.

It made its first feature film buy last year, with the documentary “The Elephant Queen,” and more recently, it did a deal for a Sophia Coppola-directed movie starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones.

Image credit: Sundance Institute