*When it came to writing the movie, “Mooz-Lum,” director/writer Qasim Basir took to heart the adage, ‘write what you know.’
The semi-autobiographical drama, currently in limited release, tells the story of a young, American Black Muslim, who, in the days leading up to 9/11, enters college and becomes conflicted about his identity. Emotionally he can’t shake his strict Muslim upbringing, but at the same time he’s tempted and wants to become his own person.
This is a noble first effort from Basir, who crafted an intimate look at Muslim-American life in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He has effectively put all the elements of good film making together – acting, directing, casting, subject matter and a remarkable script.
Set in Michigan, this is a powerful feature film debut for Basir, who actually lived several of the situations the character Tariq Mahdi (Evan Ross) experiences in the movie.
“All young people want to fit in with everyone else,” said Basir, who wrote the script in 2007. “One of the hardest things to do is to tell a young person to find comfort in their ambiguity. I wish there was another way to convey that. But, I don’t know how yet. Sometimes you have to just let people go through an experience.”
A powerful presence in the film (whose title represents the mispronunciation of “Muslim”) is Tariq’s father played with incredible steadiness by Roger Guenveur Smith.
“Qasim wrote a very strong character,” said Smith. “I enjoyed playing the character because he was real and he had dimension. My character is driven by his faith and wants to best for his family. For me this was a chance to play a solid character within a good script that became a very good movie. It’s not often that we get nuanced, complex family stories that resonate in personal ways. This movie is really about love.”
Smith plays a man (Hassan Mahdi) who is absolute in his resolve for the Muslim faith. He’s a devout Muslim determined to have his son live his life the same way. After his wife, Safiyah Mahdi (Nia Long) leaves with their daughter, he sends Tariq to an Islamist school, where he is beaten unmercifully for trick-or-treating on Halloween. In addition, that same night, he is criticized for being a Muslim by the father of a girl with whom he had a secret friendship.
After Tariq goes to college his eyes are opened to women, liquor, rock concerts and a kind of freedom he, at one time, could have only dreamed of. His fellow Muslim classmates and a Muslim professor try to get him to respect his roots, but Tariq, who insists on being called, “T,” is having none of it.
Evan Ross (“90210”, “Pride”) is brilliant in this poignant film, as he effectively displays comfort and discomfort.
In fact, Basir assembled a solid cast. Nia Long, who plays Tariq’s mother delivers one of the most incredible performances by an actress this year, displaying strength and compassion in a ‘man’s world’. Smith always brings it home as does Danny Glover and Dorian Missick.
“When I got the script it wasn’t good it was great,” said Missick, who portrays a comparative religion professor in the film who is young, hip and Muslim. “It touched upon subjects that a lot of films don’t touch on. And the way he handled it. Plus, he wrote it from a place of knowledge. ‘Q’ didn’t have to guess about what it would be like to struggle with your faith, he lived it. This movie resonated with me.”
Missick, who stars in the television show, “The Cape,” learned about the Muslim faith in high school while dating his then girlfriend.
“Her family was Muslim, so I learned a lot about the faith just by being around her family,” said Missick. “I remember her mother being this incredibly strong individual who ran the house. In fact, Nia Long’s character is much like my friend’s mother.”
Getting the movie to the theater was nearly a four-year ordeal, but Basir stayed the course.
“I was discouraged, there were a lot of discouraging things that took place along this journey,” said Basir, who hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “But, there was not one single moment where I thought this wouldn’t happen. I feel very connected with the divine.”
While his own faith remains strong Basir, who is Muslim, shakes his head at the notion that the Muslim faith is looked upon in such a negative way.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about my faith is that it is something that is violent,” said Basir. “That’s just insane to me. I’ve never been in a more comfortable place in my life than in the presence of Muslim people. There is just this underlying respect and love for God that does not allow them to do things that are hateful.”
With a subject matter that is still incredibly sensitive in America, Basir has no doubt about the movie’s importance and relevance.
“I’m very confident about this movie and where it can go,” he said.
The independently produced and distributed movie is already a huge success by exceeding expectations at the box office last weekend earning $12,712 per screen – reportedly one of the highest per screen averages in the country. AMC Theatres® (AMC) had the film exclusively in 10 cities on 11 screens.
“I always knew that if we could just get this film to the people, they’d show up,” said Basir. “And although we didn’t open in every city, those people should know that we’re coming.”
“Mooz-Lum,” directed by Qasim ‘Q’ Basir, stars Evan Ross, Nia Long, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dorian Missick, Danny Glover, Summer Bishil, Kunal Sharma.
“Mooz-Lum” is Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violent content. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Check your local listings.