The new film “Mooz Lum” brought a 14-year-old girl at a Chicago viewing to tears because its scenes of harassment against Muslim students were all too familiar, says “Mooz Lum” screenwriter and director Qasim Basir. The girl told him she was often afraid to wear her hijab at school because of teasing and harassment.
“The point of making this film is to put a human face on Muslims and Islam,” says the filmmaker.
” Mooz Lum,” based on Basir’s life story, chronicles his upbringing in a strict Black Muslim family, studying to be a Qu’ranic scholar before transitioning to college life. Basir says the film’s title represents a mispronunciation of “Muslim” and conveys how misunderstood Islam is in the United States.
“These are people I know in my life,” says Basir of the film’s characters. The movie captures anti-Muslim sentiment on his college campus following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Soon after the attacks, the FBI documented a 1,600 percent increased in hate crimes, according to the book Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11 by Dr. Lori Peek, an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University.
The country was not ready for a film like this shortly after Sept. 11, says “Mooz Lum” producer Dana Offenbach. Even today, with debate still swirling around the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, emotions remain high.
“We knew going in that this was going to be a tough ride,” says Offenbach. “I realized immediately that this was a young man that wanted to tell important stories.”
Tariq, the film’s protagonist, is studying to become a hafiz, or a scion of the Qu’ran. Although most U.S. Muslims don’t live such a strict lifestyle, many Muslim students can relate to scenes where Tariq is the target of teasing because of his name or religious garb. Actor Dorian Missick, 35, who plays a Muslim college professor of world religion in the movie, says people have come up to him in the street and thanked him for doing a film that portrays the Muslim-American community in a new light.
“We speak to that audience,” he says.
A star of NBC’s “The Cape,” Dorian was part of an A-list cast that includes Danny Glover and Nia Long. Long plays Tariq’s strong and compassionate mother. It’s not the stereotypical portrayal of a Muslim woman walking behind her husband says Basir, adding that Long felt compelled to try a new character.
Offenbach says women who screened the movie at the Cairo Film Festival responded very well to the strong female characters. “Women have responded verbally,” she says.
While Basir has been focusing on the film festival circuit for now, he plans to screen the film at colleges and universities nationwide in the coming months. He also hopes his film follows in the patter of “Slumdog Millionaire,” which initially opened in 10 cities but received wider distribution on the strength of positive word of mouth. “Mooz Lum” will be released in 10 cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.) on Feb 11.
“I think it’s the right time,” says Basir of starting a dialogue about Islam.
A trailer for the movie is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4axp5V_j6E. For more information on the film visit http://v2dstudio.com/Moozlum/home.htm.