Evan Ross has been quietly building a solid film career over the last few years. We were first introduced to Ross in 2006 in the film ATL, in which he delivered a scene-stealing performance as Ant, the troubled brother of Rashad, played by rapper T.I. Like Washington and Mackie, Ross has the ability to bring to reality characters from all walks of life in a way that is accessible and believable.
In Qasim Basir’s Mooz-lum, Ross plays a Muslim college student trying to balance his strict Muslim upbringing with college life in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ross gets it right again, leading the viewer to ponder the precarious position this young man occupies both spiritually and emotionally. Ross should have been recognized for this game-changing role, which shows the complexity of building an identity in a world obsessed with religion and power.
Tessa Thompson’s turn as an aspirational teenager who winds up pregnant in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls should not be overlooked because of the inconsistency of the film itself in terms of story line, plot and direction. In fact, there were several outstanding performances in the film, including those of Phylicia Rashad, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose and Michael Ealy.
Thompson stands out because of her ability to hold her own in an arena with seasoned actresses, including Goldberg, who plays her religious-fanatic mother; and Thandie Newton, as her mean-spirited, “loose” sister, Tangie. Thompson’s captivating performance as a confused teenager trying to escape the pressure of an overbearing mother and the shadow of a broken sister is the one consistent light in a film that stumbles along.
In Mooz-lum, Nia Long delivers a powerhouse performance as Safiyah Mahdi, a Muslim wife and mother who is determined to ensure that her son does not lose his faith amid college life in post-9/11 New York. We’ve seen Long develop as an actress through a bevy of films, including Boyz n the Hood, Love Jones, Friday, Soul Food, The Best Man, Stigmata, The Boiler Room, Big Momma’s House and Alfie. Long is able to work across many film genres in the indie and commercial Hollywood worlds. Her subtle yet powerful performance in Mooz-lum should have been recognized by Oscar.
We’re sure you can figure out our nominees for best director: Tanya Hamilton for Night Catches Us and Qasim Basir for Mooz-lum. Those two fantastic films were brilliantly directed by newcomers who clearly are trying to tell a different type of story without necessarily having a Hollywood ending.
Nsenga Burton is editor-at-large for The Root. She also serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. Follow her on Twitter.