What do Evan Ross, Nia Long, Danny Glover, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dorian Missick all have in common other than being some of the best African American actors ever? They all star in the 2010 UrbanWorld Film Festival winner, Mooz-Lum which can currently be found in select indie and AMC theaters now. Hopefully this film will give more insight to Muslim communities and into the challenges that Muslim youth coming of age face daily. Writer and filmmaker Usame Tunagur does a good job at contextualizing the film for both Muslim and non-Muslim viewers, read what he has to say below (spoiler alert!):
“It is in this cultural milieu that up-and-coming director/writer Qasim Basir attempts to humanize Muslim Americans (and Muslims in general) by highlighting all of their forms and complexities. His feature film, MOOZ-lum, premiered at the 14th Urbanworld Film Festival, and won the best Narrative Feature Film Award. The film breaks the boxes that Muslim characters have historically and repeatedly been forced into. Its title, a play on the popular mispronunciation of the word “Muslim,” MOOZ-lum is the story of Tariq Mahdi (actor: Evan Ross), a Muslim-American college freshman student who is desperately seeking his identity. He carries heavy psychological baggage as he is mistreated and beaten by the principal at an Islamic school, where his father, Hassan (actor: Roger Guenveur Smith), forcefully sent him in the hope of seeing his son becomes a hafiz (a person who has memorized the complete text of the Qur’an). The film goes back and forth between Tariq’s experiences at the Islamic school and his first days at his new college. He feels totally out of place in both environments, and struggles to feel an affinity to either the Muslim American community or other Americans. His identity crisis comes to a boiling point when the 9/11 attacks occur. The film asks the question: Will Tariq navigate the waters of his father’s forced religious identity, or will he strive to discover himself amidst the tumultuous 9/11 atmosphere, while making peace with his religion?
Tariq’s family is African American Muslim, part of the largest Muslim group in the United States. While the center of the drama is on Tariq and his family, the film also includes American Muslims of Indian ancestry and other ethnicities. MOOZ-lum’s true success is its ability to make the viewers connect with Muslims. They are not the “other,” but are relatable human beings in this film. They do the right things, the wrong things, and everything in between. They learn, teach, grow, take action, get mad, cry, laugh, love, get divorced, and sometimes even redeem themselves. We see a wide spectrum of Muslim Americans, from good and beautiful to bad and ugly, as individual characters rather than one-dimensional stereotypical stick figures.
Tariq’s stress about who he is and what he should be relates directly to the level of intensity audiences feel throughout the film. As an African American Muslim, Tariq, is experiencing Du Boisian double consciousness, which in very simple terms is the psychological conflict of being “African” and “American” at the same time. But Tariq’s experience is somewhat different from the double-consciousness experienced by most Black Americans. His struggle it to maintain a healthy duality between the Muslim community and the overall American public (both black and white). He is a total failure at this. He does not feel a comfortable connection to either. He changes his name from Tariq to “T” among both Muslims and non-Muslims. To juxtapose Tariq’s unsettled emotional state, director Qasim Basir introduces another character; Professor Jamal (actor: Dorian Missick), a young Muslim African American world religions professor. He is a smooth operator when it comes to maintaining his double consciousness, going as “Professor J” among his students, and as Jamal among Muslims. He is comfortable in both worlds. In a way, Tariq is trying to become Jamal, but within his own particular reality.”
For years, Muslim women have been portrayed as oppressed, voiceless, and without any agency. A recent example is Sex and the City 2 which portrays women who are independent and free-spirited who do not always follow the ‘social norms.’ But when it comes to Muslim imagery, as Asma Uddin and Sarah Jawaid argued in a post for On Faith, this film also buys into convenient visual conventions by “perpetuat[ing] stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed, silent, and subdued by their apparently necessary counterpart: the violent, angry Muslim man.” Contrarily, MOOZ-lum confronts this typical imagery head-on. Tariq’s mother Safiyah (actress: Nia Long) is a strong challenge to the hundreds of Muslim women’s images we come across in the media. She disagrees with her husband about how to raise their children, asks for a divorce, puts her husband in his place when needed, and even slaps a man of authority, all the while fashioning her colorful hijab (Muslim headscarf) and walking proudly and comfortably in a mosque. This comes as a fresh breath of air in the midst of all the suffocating one-dimensional Muslim women depictions.”
Read the rest of Tunagur’s review here. Peep the trailer below:
To find out where the movie is playing near you, go to the film’s official site. Enjoy ladies!
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