Film Review: MOOZ-LUM, the movie: The story I don’t get to see often enough
by Amina Wadud
I’ve been following the release of the movie for several months. I have applauded at the right places, sent notes to the producer, signed up for all the facebook groups, and even follow on twitter (along with a mere 30 others I follow on that medium, with less than 1000 that follow me). I did everything I could to see my little part in helping to promote its move to mainstream theaters. I was keen to see the movie get over the hurdles in a field still laden with internal politics that exclude and manufacture consent for some of the strangest things. The UN Human Rights twitter asked how come they could get 80,000 follows while Lady Gaga got 8 + million. I had my answers, because I would never in this life time follow Lady Gaga, even if I enjoyed a song or two, but would surely follow UNHR.
I like to see success in young people that I have come to know in one way or another. I guess that’s a consequence of so many years in education. I knew the family being portrayed because they were in the same town I was in while studying for my Ph.D. in Islamic studies. We did not keep in touch, over the years after I left. I had no idea how family matters had proceeded. I became interested in the movie Mooz-lum though, before I knew it was connected to that family, with whom I was just re-connecting through facebook. Well, then, my interest really increased.
But then, I thought, maybe my interest was too personal and I would not be objective when I went to see it. It was probably not really that good a movie and that’s why it was being excluded in certain circles of Hollywood. Still, I wanted to believe I was wrong on that count. Unfortunately, every thing I had seen left me unsure about my enthusiasm. The trailers were okay, but it is hard for such trailers to help the yet-to-view viewers relate to the central character. He is so withdrawn, silent in fact. So what does a good trailer look like for that kind of character? I will probably wonder for a long time. I could make some suggestions, because I’m just the age where I think every body wants to know my opinion on all matters. But let’s be honest, this is way outside my league.
Even for this review here, I respond based only on two qualifications: I go to the movies and I am an Islamic Studies professor from America, albeit retired. Other than reading about people who say they really liked the movie, or that that they took something away from it, I had read two lengthy thoughtful reviews. In both, the authors, also African-American and Muslim, say their experience growing up Muslim in America found no parallels in the life of the main character. This brings to mind an important point. This is ONE coming of age story about Islam in America for African-Americans. Of course we have more. Maybe more of them will come to film now. Maybe more of them will be penned into books, I don’t know. But for sure, none of what happened in the movie is so fantastic that one walks away saying, no, that could never happen. Yet, in another way it was fantastic. Their conclusions on the matter, and the end of watching the movie brings me, like so many others to say, I got so much from watching it.
I got a side of a story I know very well, because I am Muslim in America. I have five children who grew up under their parent’s expectations of them as Muslims. I have taught and gave lectures in perhaps 100 U.S. universities, so I meet these same struggling to be Muslim young people, regularly. More over, I have worked on stories, poems, anthologies, and others medium for coming out as Muslim in America for at least three decades. Now, here’s the thing. Most of that work is focused on young and older Muslim American women.
Nothing changes on that accord: our stories are under-told or told by the wrong persons, still. There are also stories of young or older Muslim men. Some of them get told over and over again and frankly, I am tired of hearing them.
This story is of a different sort for men. This was the deciding point for me and why I choose to write a review. Except for maybe the Dean, played by Danny Glover, (and some minor “don’t you be pussies” bully types) none of the males in this story are insensitive jerks. Imagine that?! It was not unbelievable, though. In fact, the main character, the one who made me cry when he recited Qur’an near the end of the film, was simply a shy, introspective, young man, who was never given any choices but the ones his adoring parents had for him.
This includes choices about Islam, choices about his roommate in College, choices about his own personality. So, in a way, he doesn’t get to develop one. Well, that makes not sense. How can he not form a personality? What I mean is, he never forms an overtly aggressive (or even latently aggressive) personality. He does continue to survive and, if at all possible, to survive without scarring others—as he himself had been scarred literally and figuratively. And so I was moved by this. I was moved by both a father and a son, despite pain and silence who loved each other through their own silence and wanted the best even if the idea about how to get there was not tried and true, let alone shared and achieved together.
I was more touched by the male characters in this movie than I have been by male characters in books, film or real life in a very long time. I hope I have never over looked them in a crowd of students, disregarded their questions in an audience, or accused them of the same kind of insensitivity that occurs so easily even against the odds of family upbringing of either love or difficulty. This movie brings in my mind the rare view of what it is like to struggle as African-American and male and Muslim and keep your sensitivities in tact, at all cost. Some times the costs were painful.
I also want to say to Qasim Basir and his family, thanks for a movie well done; and although I wont be following all the social medium as much as I have until this time, I do wish you greater and greater success.