Writer-director Qasim Basir pulls off a very interesting trick. He manages to spotlight the bigotry against American Muslims prior to and following Sept. 11, 2001, while also managing to make a case against Islamic fundamentalism and extremism. In the wake of the 2010 Ground Zero mosque in New York debate, Basir's film couldn't be more timely.
Evan Ross (ATL and Life Support) plays Tariq, a young African-American whose parents are devout Muslims. His father, played by Roger Guenveur Smith (Eve's Bayou and Get on the Bus), is actually way more devout than his mother, played by Nia Long (Love Jones and The Best Man). Not that his father has more faith than his mother, his father is simply stricter and more conservative.
His mother in fact opposes his father when he wants to put Tariq into a strict and conservative, Muslim school, a madrasah. It is a boarding school essentially, cut off from the world and any outside culture so that the students can focus on learning Arabic and every word of the Qur'an.
Even though Tariq and his family are not immigrants, there are a few issues raised that are similar to immigrant stories we've seen before, specifically immigrant Muslim stories, but also Latino and Eastern European immigrant stories. New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis did a movie called Crossing Over (2009) that raised the issue of assimilation, which is an issue over whether the United States is a salad bowl or whether it's a melting pot.
Tariq's father falls on the side of salad bowl where he sees the country as having many ingredients but those ingredients should stay distinct. His mother, however, falls on the side of a melting pot where she sees the country as having many ingredients that can easily blend and one can even rub off on another.
In Crossing Over, Curtis' character has to deal with Iranian family members who don't want to see women of their faith assimilating or having anything rubbed off on them. This causes serious friction within the family. Basir has a similar thing happen in MOOZ-lum, and it causes a division in Tariq's family.
Later, we see the results of that division, and it's not necessarily about assimilation. It's about going too far no matter what direction you're headed. It's about how that can cause abuse. Yet, the over-arching theme is bigotry, bigotry against Muslim Americans. What Basir also shows is that the real bigotry doesn't come from a non-Muslim outside Tariq's family; it comes from Tariq himself.
As Tariq breaks away from his family and goes to college, he also breaks away from his religion, but that's not all. He isolates himself in a lot of ways. Initially, others impose that isolation upon him. However, as Tariq gets older, he starts to impose that isolation on himself, much to the chagrin of friends and much to the annoyance of his sister, played by Kimberley Drummond.
Danny Glover (The Color Purple) and Dorian Missick round out the cast as Dean Francis and Professor Jamal, respectively. Glover's character takes a hardline against Muslims, whereas Missick's character is one.
Evan Ross is good as a sheltered and abused young black man struggling with his faith and ties to his heritage. Ross is mostly stoic and awkward, but his behavior points to pain both emotional and physical, which really doesn't hit until the end of the movie when all Hell breaks loose.
At the end of December 2010, Katie Couric made a comment on her CBSNews.com show regarding recent anti-Muslim sentiment. She said that a TV series, not unlike The Cosby Show, but that focuses on a Muslim family might help to stem the tide of anti-Muslim feeling or simple ignorance. Any show or movie that depicts a normal Muslim family would help to that end, and I feel like this film accomplishes that.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violence.