There is a risk when a young director tackles a subject that seems more like a bite too much. But it is always refreshing to see young actors in black cinema. Mooz-lum oscillates between adult Tariq (Evan Ross) in college—where he reinvents himself as “T” while renouncing his faith—and his littered childhood, played by Jonathan Smith – who is parceled by his imposing father Hassan (Roger Guenveur Smith) to an Islamic boarding school, which eventually leads to his more liberal mother, Safiyah (Nia Long), divorcing his father.
Evan Ross’ (Tariq) performance was exquisite. That said, some of the dialogue for the young cast felt out-of-place. Otherwise, Nia Long (Safiyah) put up some splendid acting as well. So did Roger Guenveur Smith (Hassan), except for those moments when you felt like laughing not because he was bad, but because he was exceedingly hilarious.
The storyline packed a potential punch because of the complex social issues raised – Muslims in America, terrorism, 9/11, family feud, divorce, college rite de passage and tenure – come to think of it, everything one could imagine. This is probably the reason why the delivery lacked the necessary momentum; you couldn’t get a feel for any issue before another one was thrown at you. The title, perhaps, a play on the pronunciation of Muslim, served its fair share of missing subtlety. At least in Biutiful, 2010, Alejandro González Iñárritu explained why the word was misspelled.
Nevertheless, the inspiration for the movie is commendable, as the events seem to have been informed by Qasim Basir’s own experiences. In this light, Mooz-lum deserves the credit for providing an illuminating depiction of an African-American Muslim – something that is rare in film. The scripting got a little clamorous, I suspect out of tediousness. Maybe directing alone is hard enough that before you’ve managed it, you’ll have encountered enough forest to satisfy even the most adventurous of spirits? So why add the already tedious voyage of writing to directing?
Additionally, the over-reliance on flashbacks did not enhance the plot. As a result, it was not a surprise that most of the focal points in the movie fell in some wrong crevices. Overall, I applaud Basir for creating a rich characterization in Tariq. Mooz-lum may not score high, but it is a well thought out film. At least it exudes a lot of passion. And that is no mean achievement.
Director/Writer: Qasim Basir
Stars: Danny Glover, Nia Long and Evan Ross
Release Date: 11 Feb. 2011