Nia Long has portrayed a variety of characters throughout the 20-plus years that she’s graced the big screen. Film audiences first noticed her as the supportive girlfriend in the Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood, and she remained on moviegoers’ radar as she lent her talent to Love Jones, The Best Man, Are We There Yet? and more. But it’s her recent riveting portrayal as the self-respecting Muslim wife and mother Safiyah Mahdi, in the independent film Mooz-lum, that’s garnering attention.
Set against the backdrop of the 9/11 events, Mooz-lum explores the challenges that a young African-American Muslim man, Tariq (Evan Ross), faces as he struggles to balance his strict Muslim upbringing with his new secular college environment. Long’s character asserts her independence as she tackles her estranged relationship with her son, Tariq, and husband, Hassan (Roger Guenveur Smith). The film, which also stars Danny Glover and Dorian Missick, is loosely based on the life of its writer and director, Qasim “Q” Basir.
Long recently took the time to discuss her role and encouraging tolerance for Muslims with The Root.
The Root: Safiyah is a dutiful Muslim woman who is the mother of two teenage children and married to a man who rigidly follows Islam. But she’s nobody’s pushover. What did you do to prepare for this role?
Nia Long: I had a lot of time and several conversations with the director’s mother, who gave me insight on the whole religion. … This story is a true story based on the director’s life, and she really kind of talked to me about what life was like raising Q and being a mother — and a Muslim mother who doesn’t always agree with her husband. [It’s] all of the things that you see in the film.
TR: What drew you to this role?
NL: The story is amazing, but also, I was looking for a dramatic piece. I’ve been doing a lot of comedy stuff, which I absolutely love doing. But I’m an artist, and who wants to paint the same picture every time on the same canvas?
TR: Muslim women are often perceived to be subservient and docile compared with their male counterparts. How has playing Safiyah influenced your perception of women’s roles in Islam and how they’re treated?