The Root Review: 'Mooz-lum,' a New Spin on an Old Tale
At times overwhelming in scope and pace, the new film Mooz-lum offers a new twist on a familiar tale of tolerance.
While Ross plays the part of the disillusioned and damaged son with a quiet conviction, his character is sometimes overshadowed by the enormity of the plot itself. The varied conflicts, personal and political, familial and national, are overwhelming at times, making Mooz-lum more like Do the Right Thing (lynch mob and all) than the more subtle Malcolm X.
Perhaps this is because the uniqueness of Bashir's story line required so many contexts. Bashir tasks himself with not only teaching acceptance but also demonstrating the negative consequences of ignorance. Enter 9/11. Three-quarters into the film and a tad too late, the Twin Towers fall; Tariq's pious Arab-American roommate, Hamza (Kunal Sharma), is a victim of a hate crime; and Tariq's sister, Taqua (Kimberley Drummond), goes missing.
Somehow the film retains its tension, even as the plot, perhaps unavoidably, is overwhelmed by all of the moral quandaries and personal conflicts. For the most part, though, Bashir offers us a fresh, new perspective. As a young director, he seems unable to resist pulling out all the cinema tricks -- flashbacks, didacticism, stock imagery and a closing montage.
But more compelling are his representations of Muslim women, both African American and Arab American, who seem to be the most spiritually fulfilled and socially comfortable characters in the film. Perhaps as an answer to the oversimplified critique of sexism and Islam, Bashir imbues Tariq's mother and sister and his roommate's girlfriend, Iman (Summer Bishil), with freedom and the ability to move easily between the sacred and the secular.
But ultimately, this is a movie about fathers and sons on one hand and forgiveness and finding faith on the other. Mooz-lum is a new twist on the familiar narrative of tolerance. But by the end of the movie, which concludes shortly after the events of 9/11, the viewer gets the sneaking suspicion that Tariq's turn outward to his family and friends might be the best protection he has against a country that is about to turn more and more inward -- and where being Muslim American has a whole new set of consequences.
Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, author of the forthcoming Peculiar Citizenship: Slavery and the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and co-founder of the nonprofit organization A Long Walk Home, Inc. Follow her on Twitter.