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