’90210′ actor Evan Ross eats lunch with friends at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, California on February 21, 2013
*Evan Ross and Donny Boaz have been cast opposite Keke Palmer, Lil Mama and Drew Sidora in “Crazy, Sexy, Cool: The TLC Story,” VH1‘s biopic of the R&B group TLC.
Ross will play Dallas Austin, the producer of many TLC hits who was romantically involved with Chilli, played by Palmer. Boaz will play the trio’s manager Bill Diggins.
As previously reported, Lil Mama plays Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Sidora plays Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins.
Ross and Austin are actually close friends in real life, according to Deadline.com. Austin was a producer on Ross’ very first film, Warner Bros’ “ATL.” Boaz will next be seen portraying Larry Birkhead in Lifetime’s Anna Nicole Smith biopic.
*The movie, “Mooz-Lum,” hit selected theaters across the country this past February and since then has taken on a life of its own, enjoying a huge following on social media sites like Facebook.
The film, directed by neophyte Qasim Basir, stars Evan Ross, Nia Long, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dorian Missick and Danny Glover. It was released on DVD June 14.
Pulled between his strict Muslim upbringing by his father (Roger Guenever Smith) and the normal social life he’s never had, Tariq Mahdi (Evan Ross) enters college in a state of confusion. New relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike challenges his already shaken ideals, and the estrangement with his mother (Nia Long) and sister troubles him. Slowly, he begins to find himself with the help of new friends, family and mentors, but when the attacks of 9/11 happen without warning, he is forced to face the past and make the biggest decisions of his life.
I caught up with Basir to talk about Mooz-Lum’s controversial subject matter and the making of the film.
Darlene Donloe: I understand that you grew up Muslim. Is this totally autobiographical?
Qasim Basir: It definitely has been dramatized for the screen. For the most part it’s true. Days and times have been changed. The situations are pretty much true.
DD: Was it hard or more cathartic to write?
QB: It was both. Anyone who reaches back and deals with things in their past and childhood, I think, have issues and I certainly did. At the end of the day, it turned out to be one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done. I dealt with some things I didn’t realize were still affecting me.
DD: Like what?
QB: I can’t really give away too much of the film. But, there are things that happened to the young man when he went to a certain school. And, those things happened to me in real life. They are things I tucked away and didn’t really deal with until the writing of this screenplay. Dealing with the incident it showed me how it’s dealing with some of my personality traits today. It’s hard to say without giving the movie away.
DD: Why did you write this? You wanted to say what?
QB: I wrote it for a few reasons. One, there is an unbalanced media portrayal and has been for the last decade about Muslims. I needed to tell a story a little more accurate. I wanted to give a voice to a group of people who have pretty much been trampled on. And, number two, I wanted people who haven’t seen this side of the story – I wanted them to have a human experience with Muslims instead of this demonized version of extremists blowing things up. I wanted them to see a family that loves and feels and has happiness. Hopefully, it could open their minds a little more.
DD: What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception about the Muslim faith?
QB: The fact, the idea that Islam represents something violent. There are certain people that do certain things in the name of Islam, which they have basically hijacked the religion. It’s such a small population in the grand scheme of things. But those are the ones that have gotten the attention. I was born and raised Muslim and I’ve never heard of that stuff. Everyone I’ve ever known who is Muslim is a compassionate and good person. Obviously there are some people that have done bad things, but that’s not because of Islam. That’s what I was trying to show in this film. It’s the people who take things into their own hands.
DD: I’ve noticed that when someone who is Baptist does something, the whole faith is not demonized. However, when someone is Muslim, the entire faith is looked down upon.
QB: I don’t take the accountability away from the Muslims who do these things. The fault is with them. They do things in the name of Islam, which is why people feel a certain way about it. We have to acknowledge that some people do these things in the name of Islam. Is it right, absolutely not! The fact is that Muslim people are effected by terrorists all the time. When these people blow up stuff, they blow up Muslims too. And, if something goes down here, Muslim people are afraid too and they don’t want to be hurt too. And, they’re trying to protect their families as well. This whole separation thing has to be fixed because right now there is this idea of us being ‘the other’ and people have to get rid of that.
DD: Talk about the feedback you’re getting about the movie.
QB: It’s been wonderful so far. It’s been great. I couldn’t ask for a better reception than what we’ve been getting. Look on our Facebook page – facebook.com-moozlum, the movie. There is a tab that says reviews. Most of them are really good. I’m really happy right now.
DD: After the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, I’m sure you’ve had some very interesting conversations.
QB: Yeah, The crazy part about that, I was in the United Kingdom when that happened. I was there for about a week and a half. It had died down by the time I got back. The people I’m around are very open-minded and very enlightened about the world and issues. I didn’t get too much of the feared conversations. It’s hard to say. I did have a couple where people didn’t believe it and stuff like that, but it wasn’t anything crazy.
DD: Lets talk more about the movie. How long to write and get it on screen?
QB: Initially, I wrote the first draft in a month. Anyone who knows about writing knows the first draft doesn’t really mean much. Draft after draft for about a year and a half, two years. We started shooting the end of 2009. 2010 was about getting it done – editing, music and then started showing it at the Urbanworld Film Festival. It won for best narrative feature. There were a few more festivals like the one in Chicago International Film Festival and the Cairo International film festival. Then we opened in theaters in February. I’m saying this all casually like it was easy, but none of it really was. It’s been a journey, but a good one. I learned a lot.
DD: The casting is fabulous. Nia Long, Evan Ross, Roger Guenveur Smith. Were Nia and Roger supposed to represent your parents?
QB: Nia and Roger, those characters were modeled after my parents. People have this idea about Muslim women – like they are weak. But, my mother and the women I’ve known have always been strong. Roger’s character and Nia’s character were modeled after my parents. Roger’s character is modeled after my father. The sister was modeled after my three sisters. It was a blessing working with these actors.
About Darlene Donloe / DCDwriter@aol.com From her Plaxo profile page: I have been a journalist for more than 20 years. Within that time I have written about entertainment, travel, medical, sports, politics and more. I’m also a publicist. I’ve worked on high profile campaigns for Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson, as well as for individuals. When I’m not writing or doing publicity, I work as a massage therapist.
*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.
Qasim 'Q' Basir, director of 'Mooz-lum'
“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.