She finished high school at the age of 13, became the youngest valedictorian at Hudson County Community College at 16, and is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Saint Peter’s University in May.
When Reyhan Lalaoui is not busy studying, the 18-year-old communication and media culture major is focused on telling stories for her production company, County Films, which she established in 2018.
“I’m very passionate about local voices,” she told The Pauw Wow. “We have a lot of untold stories here that deserve a platform.”
Lalaoui was born in New York but her heart will always be in Hudson County, where her first television series, “Suicide Spenders,” is set and filmed. The first two episodes are set to premiere at Saint Peter’s in April.
The team behind her current project all hail from Hudson County because she wanted local talent representing a story that takes place here.
“‘Suicide Spenders’ is the coming of age story of six Jersey City high schoolers and the most unexpected week of their lives,” Lalaoui recounts. “It is a support group that turns into a suicide pact and it’s supposed to be a commentary on how mental health in youth is represented in media today.”
Not only does the teen direct, write, edit and produce the series, she also plays the role of a Muslim Moroccan-American named Anya Andou, who suffers from anxiety and depression.
“It's the story of these kids who really want solutions to all of their problems. They come from a lot of different backgrounds, so it's pretty diverse problems. They think this is the best idea because they don't have the right resources around them to be able to actually confront them,” Lalaoui explains.
Besides mental health, “Suicide Spenders” also deals with the nuances of religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.
In terms of inspiration, Lalaoui bases her stories off of what is going on around her. She has never seen herself represented on screen, so she is now on a mission to change that.
“I wanted to tell stories about kids who look like I do and live like I do because I know someone out there is going to be looking for what I’m doing,” she said.
Her other inspirations come from her love of Henry Selick’s “Coraline,” based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name; Lin-Manuel Miranda, star and creator of “Hamilton;” and directors such as Greta Gerwig and Spike Lee.
Just when you didn’t think Lalaoui could get any more amazing, she mentions being a fan of 23-year-old actor Timothée Chalamet, star of Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” and Felix van Groeningen “Beautiful Boy.”
“A man after my own heart!” she gasped.
Lalaoui has accomplished so much during her teenage years, but she shows no signs of slowing down.
Her trajectory for “Suicide Spenders” is to pitch it to platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, production outlets that can make the rest of the series possible.
Lalaoui’s dreams are becoming more of a reality as her Kickstarter campaign for the series has already reached its $10,000 fundraising goal.
She is also anxiously waiting to hear back from UCLA where she plans to continue studying producing and directing.
Lalaoui is slated to work on a film over the summer after graduating from Saint Peter’s.
“I'm happy and grateful for everything that Saint Peter’s has provided for me over the last two years. I think they really prepared me to kick start my career as soon as I graduate.”