Qasim Basir’s debut film, Mooz-lum takes a soul-searing look at the issues faced by a young Muslim man growing up in a 9/11-era America. Promoted initially via word-of-mouth and social media, the film is now gaining a wider release schedule – thanks to AMC Independent - since its theatrical opening on only a couple of screens back in February of 2011.
Poignant, relevant, and often quite moving in its characterizations, Basir’s intent with his film is to open minds and shed positive light on the ignorance surrounding Islam and Muslim people. And while he certainly attains those goals, Basir’s biggest triumph comes from the gutsiness he shows in never shying away from the sometimes-ugly truths that come from within his religion.
Tariq Mahdi (Evan Ross, son of legendary singer, Diana Ross) is entering college after growing up in a strict, Muslim household headed by his religiously orthodox father, Hasan (Roger Guenveur Smith) a former follower of Nation of Islam founder, Malcolm X.
Via a series of flashbacks, we learn that Tariq was abused while attending a strict Islamic boarding school, so it’s no wonder he’s having a difficult time adjusting to the non-secular life. Tariq’s only comfort comes from attempting to hide his Islamic upbringing and from his mother, Safiyah (Nia Long), who just wants a normal life for her son and daughter, Taqua (Kimberley Drummond). Pushed away from Hasan’s unbending conservatism, Safiyah eventually requests separation from her husband.
Tariq’s confusion and discomfort are heightened when he begins to experience more and more of the typical college dorm life. Parties, girls, liquor, and lack of direct supervision fuel the fire of internal strife within the mind of a conflicted young Muslim struggling to discover his identity. Showing he’s capable of leading an ensemble cast given the right material, Ross delivers an effective performance as the film’s emotional tent-pole. We must believe in his character and it’s vital his reactions come off as real, or the whole thing falls apart. Ross takes a cue from his filmmaker’s own life and delivers like a veteran.
Tensions at school are further escalated when the intolerant College Dean (Danny Glover) and Tariq’s hip World Religions instructor, Professor Jamal (Dorian Missick), fail to agree on the professor’s somewhat unorthodox teaching methods. Then as the tragic events of 9/11 unfold on television screens across the campus, Tariq is forced to not only form his internal identity, but to take external action to help those he loves.
While Basir’s semi-autobiographical script sometimes shows wrinkles of awkward ham-fistedness around its edges, its strong ensemble cast is always there to right the ship with inspired performances. Even stilted dialogue sounds better coming from the mouths of veteran actors like Danny Glover or Nia Long. Speaking of Long, her compassionate Safiyah is the most likeable character of the lot, the rock of maternal strength and conviction. Basir was smart to go with a strong female character to counter the negative image of women’s oppression in the Islamic faith.
Basir has almost certainly faced criticism from both Muslims and non-Muslims as his film forces viewers to face some pretty tough realities - realities that neither side may be ready or willing to embrace. But if getting the topic out on the table for discussion promises hope for healing, then we’re well on the road to recovery. Perhaps non-Muslims can begin by understanding that the pronunciation hinted at in the film’s title is incorrect and often considered derogatory. How’s that for learning and understanding?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and some violent content.
Director: Qasim Basir
Writer: Qasim Basir
Cast: Danny Glover; Evan Ross; Nia Long; Roger Guenveur Smith; Kunal Sharma; Kimberly Drummond
Distributor: Peace Film
Official Site: moozlumthemovie.com/moozlum
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date: No details available
Plot Synopsis: Amid a strict Muslim rearing and a social life he's never had, Tariq (Evan Ross) enters college confused. New peers, family and mentors help him find his place, but the 9-11 attacks force him to face his past and make the biggest decisions of his life.
No blu-ray/DVD details available