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EbonyJet Online | African American Magazine


Film Brings Awareness To Challenges For Muslim-American Youth

By Margena A. Christian

It’s never been done before, but Qasim Basir thought it was necessary. He wrote and directed Mooz-lum, the first-ever American feature film to cast a light on the complications that young Muslim Americans face. For Basir, this is more than a movie. The film, which opens today, mirrors his life.

Mooz-lum–given its title because of people’s mispronunciation and lack of understanding about the people who practice Islam–chronicles the story of a Muslim-American teen, Tariq Mahdi. Often taunted while in grade school about his religion, Tariq later finds himself struggling with his faith and identity as a college freshman on a Midwestern campus at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His trials are heightened when he’s forced to deal with the anti-Muslim backlash while at the same time trying to sever himself from his upbringing.

“It touched me when I read the script. I called the director and said I really wanted to do this. I was the first person to really sign on to it,” says Evan Ross, who plays Tariq. “I wanted to know more about being a Muslim. A lot of times young people don’t have enough information to know how other people live their lives. I can only imagine what it was like to grow up like that and to have to find his way through everything.”

Ross, in his first lead actor role, prepared for the character by learning the Koran and attending a few Mosques. Nia Long, who plays Tariq’s mother, earned a new respect for Muslim women while studying for the role. The film’s release is timely and crucial for educating the masses, she believes.

“We all have preconceived ideas of what it means to be a Muslim,” says Long. “My goal was to show Muslim women as approachable, beautiful, spiritual, sophisticated and well rounded with amazing standards and commitment to their faith. This movie is very relevant now when you think about 9/11 and the things this country has been through. There is a picture painted about Muslims. This movie shows [Tariq] wondering if his entire group of people is bad and what they stand for. He learns there are good and bad people in all situations.”

Roger Guenveur Smith, who plays Tariq’s father, compared the film to Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do The Right Thing, in which Smith appeared. What Lee did in opening people’s eyes to the racism faced by Black youth in Brooklyn, Basir does by introducing people about Muslim-American youth.

“The same sort of feeling I got being involved in this production is the same feeling I had in the early days of working with Spike Lee,” says Smith, who won a Peabody Award for his solo performance of A Huey P. Newton Story, directed by Lee. “You know you are in the presence of a young, dynamic writer and director who has a tremendous future. This was written before that crisis emerged. I think all great art speaks to the moment and in some way predicts the moment before the moment happens. This is certainly the case with Mooz-lum.”

Produced by Dana Offenbach, the movie won rave reviews during early screenings and even earned Urbanworld’s 2010 Best Narrative Feature award. Filmed in Detroit, Mooz-lum is releasing in 10 cities starting this weekend: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

“I would love for young people to be more open minded and learn from all religions,” says Ross. “These people are all around us. I’m so much more understanding. [Islam] is a beautiful religion. The more aware we are, the less we’re ignorant. Ignorance is dangerous.”


–Margena A. Christian is a Senior Writer for EBONY.

EbonyJet Online | African American Magazine