Bishil was born in Pasadena, California and is the youngest of three children. Her American mother is of Mexican and Caucasian descent and her father is of Indian descent.In 1991, when Bishil was three years old, the family moved to Saudi Arabiaand then to Bahrain, where she and her brother attended British and American schools.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks prompted her family to return to the United States. They moved to a Mormon community in San Diego where she attended a regular public high school for a week. Because of the post-9/11 tension in the U.S., her schoolmates did not welcome her kindly. She stated that the return was not easy: “I hated it. I was called a whore on the first day of school, and somebody said they thought my dad funded terrorism. I just knew that nobody was ever going to want to be my friend there. I had panic attacks the first year of my life here.” The family later moved to Arcadia, where her mother home schooled her.She took classes at Citrus College in Glendora, California.
Bishil started acting lessons at age 14. Within a year, she was signed to a contract with a manager and agency. Bishil’s first role was on the short-lived Nickelodeon television show Just for Kicks, followed by appearances in several other children’s shows.
Bishil’s breakthrough performancecame as the lead in Alan Ball‘s film, Towelhead in 2007, an adaptation of the novel of the same name. Slatecritic Dana Stevens said, “Her performance is the truest thing in a movie that, for all its good intentions, feels thoroughly phony and mildly embarrassing, like an extended PSAabout inappropriate touching.” Bob Strauss, who writes for several Los Angeles newspapers, states that Bishil, “…is one of the finest natural film actresses to emerge in years.”Gary Goldstein in a September 12 Los Angeles Times review of the movie Towelhead, stated that, “…newcomer Summer Bishil turns in a gutsy, quietly riveting performance as Jasira.”
In 2009, she filmed Wayne Kramer‘s project, Crossing Over, starring Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd, a portrayal that received some favorable notice from Associated Press‘s Jay Reiner. She was chosen to portray Azula in M. Night Shyamalan‘s 2010 film The Last Airbender, and was planned to be the focus of the planned but never-produced sequel.
In 2013, Bishil was cast as Samira one of the lead roles on the short-lived ABC drama Lucky 7. In late 2014, Bishil was cast in the role of Margo Hanson in the Syfy drama series The Magicians, which is in its fifth season.