MOOZ-lum: finally a film worth the ticket price

I walked into the AMC Hoffman in Alexandria excited and eagerly anticipating watching MOOZ-lum for the first time. I approached the teller and went out of my way to pronounce the film name “moozlum” even as my mind fought against the improper pronunciation. An odd feeling swept over me realizing this was a night of two firsts: the first time I had ever gone to see a movie on a Thursday night and the first time I had ever gone to see one alone.

I smiled in my seat having broken my movie going routine not for a screening of a summer blockbuster, but for an independent film. Maybe I’m getting older I thought, as I waited patiently for the movie I had to go see in earnest.

What brought me out Thursday night against all the conventions I had firmly established for myself was the premise of a film with great potential. MOOZ-lum, has the potential to breath fresh air and light into a volatile debate about the American Muslim identity. Plus the director was there to answer questions after the movie, so how could I miss that opportunity?

Muslim bloggers, activists, and commentators often find themselves on the receiving end of a coordinated onslaught of misinformation and propaganda bent on distorting “our story”. For years many of us have hoped that someone would have the courage and willingness to tell “our story” as we know it. Muslims have longed for a story that speaks to our diversity, hopes, and struggles that will resonate with all Americans regardless of background. MOOZ-lum is such a film.

In the film “Traitor” the actor Don Cheadle provided a glimpse into American Muslim life which was unprecedented at the time. The films ability to challenge stereotypes about Muslims in a major Hollywood production was remarkable in its ability make viewers think outside the box. MOOZ-lum provides an even broader vision and depiction of American Muslim life that if given the distribution has the ability surpass “Traitor” by way of its ability to take the American Muslim story to the next level.

From the opening to closing moments of the film, viewers are taken on an emotional journey that resonates with any audience. The story of Tariq is masterfully played by Evan Ross. What is witnessed on film isn’t just an American Muslim story, but an every American story. Viewers are guided through experiences of a disheartened youth struggling to define his identity in light of a troubled past, along with an uncertain future in the backdrop of 9/11. Supporting the story was an all-star ensemble cast led by Nia Long whose passionate portrayal of Tariq’s mother captivated the audience and had many cheering, laughing, and crying in all the appropriate moments. The extraordinary beauty of the film lay not just in brilliant acting, but in the director’s ability to mix in a combination of themes, sights, and sounds that were at times familiar and at others unfamiliar, yet completely comfortable at all times.

The story was so convincing and compelling that you almost forget you are watching a movie. The actors draw the audience inside the story making you care about each and every character; a rare feat in modern film. This is where MOOZ-lum’s greatest strengths lie. The director Qasim Bashir who’s life the film is loosely based after weaved together a tale that will have viewers yearning for more. He takes you on a spiritual journey filled with many hills and valleys consistently challenging the viewer to analyze themselves in an environment where emotions run rampant with equal parts of hope, fear, laughs, and tears. MOOZ-lum is more of an experience than an average day at the movies.

Viewers will relate to the transformation of the lead character as many recall their own experiences on that tragic day in September 2001. I personally had to fight back tears remembering my own 9/11 transformation joining the religion which serves as the film’s focal point.

The importance of this film can not be understated. It exists in a tumultuous environment where rumor, conjecture, and falsehood concerning Muslims lead to shouting matches, political posturing, and questionable Congressional hearings. The discussion about who Muslims are and what we represent in America is wrought with gross distortions, stereotypes, and propaganda. I felt privileged to be witness to a film that is able to tell a story about the struggles of a troubled teen who just happened to be Muslim. Our greatest struggle as Muslims in America is our inability to relate to our fellow Americans in discussion and in media in ways that promote our similarities in lieu of our differences. By telling a story that speaks to the American Muslim identity in a way in which all can relate will go a long way toward breaking down the barriers that divide us all. I believe that we need to produce and promote more films like MOOZ-lum as they work to promote greater dialogue and understanding.

I encourage everyone to go see and support this film again and again its worth a lot more than the ticket price.

Other reviews:

The Root Interview: Nia Long on ‘Mooz-lum’ and Motherhood

(The Root)

‘Mooz-Lum’: A Muslim-American Perspective In Film

(Huffington Post)

MOOZ-lum, the movie

(Washington Post)

Movie review: ‘Mooz-lum’

(LA Times)

So I guess this means that Muslims DO want Democracy?

What we have witnessed in Tahrir square over the last several weeks is not a miracle as many would claim but the realization of what many had predicted would happen concerning the citizens throughout the Muslim world.

While many Western media outlets all but ignored the plight of the oppressed under the rule of authoritarian regimes, courageous media outlets like Al Jazeera and many others never let the truth be hidden.

Whether it was the Western media’s desire to keep it’s citizens steeped in ignorance concerning the Muslim world or their inability to report beyond the latest celebrity scandal, we may never know, but the Western media remained largely silent as many oppressed people endured suffering until a time came when they took matters into their own hands.

Since 9/11 we have been inundated with lies concerning Muslims and the Muslim world. Talking heads and pundits consistently paint Muslims and the Muslim world as backward people and societies, incapable of entering or understanding the “modern world”.

So called experts have fill the airwaves with nonsense telling viewers and listeners that the Middle East’s best hope for progress would be through the assistance of the US and her allies for they were incapable of doing this for themselves.

Yet, when the revolution began in Tunisia, Egypt, and others to come, the US and her allies fumbled the ball, weren’t coherent in their statements, and in some cases preferred and even backed the very Dictators the peaceful demonstrators wanted to oust.

We witnessed the toppling of Western backed dictators without the aid of foreign powers, weapons, or secret plots. We saw the youth come out in massive numbers utilizing social networks and technology to do what in generations past would have taken tanks and bombers to accomplish. We saw Muslims join hands with their Christian brethren in Egypt to proclaim that as one people regardless of theology they would stand together against the Western backed Dictatorship in Egypt.

While many of us watched live on the so-called terrorist network Al Jazeera in jubilation, concern, and every emotion in between one thing that I noticed missing from all the discussions regardless of the network covering the protests was an honest debate concerning the myths about Muslims and Democracy.

Fox News in typical fashion as well as other Western media outlets hosted a score of panelists and potential Presidential candidates who repeated Israeli talking points and tried to gin up fear concerning the Muslim brotherhood, which was expected. In light of recent events, I would like to see some retractions, apologies, or at a minimum an honest debate about Muslims and Democracy.

For years many Muslim activists have been mocked or wrongly accused as apologists when it was said that Muslims do in fact want Democracy. When the truth about the West backing the very dictators who were making Democracy impossible were brought up, many of us were accused of being terrorist sympathizers, and if we God-forbid criticized Israeli intentions we were labeled anti-Semites.

So now that the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni, and other citizens in the Middle East have and are still speaking and made the truth manifest, will we now tell the truth? Now that the entire world has witnessed Israel support a dictator in the face of historic calls for Democracy will we now maybe revisit Israeli intentions?

At a minimum will we now ignore the islamophobes, paid anti-Islam critics and lobbyists, and see the truth that all people seek freedom, Democratic principles, and peace, including Muslims!