Nia Long talks about her latest role in the coming of age movie about an African-American Muslim family entitled, Mooz-lum.
Talk about the movie Mooz-lum and what your role is.
It’s a coming of age story about an African American Muslim family, pre and post 9/11 and I play Safiyah, who is the mother of Tariq, played by Evan Ross. Evan Ross is fantastic in this movie and the story line is⎯it’s sort of like this young man who’s struggling between peer pressure, the values of his religion, wanting to be disobedient just because⎯every kid goes through that and he’s questioning his own role and because of a certain amount of abuse he experienced in his Muslim school. He really starts to resent his religion but he realizes, pre and post 9/11 that there’s a bad apple in every bunch and not whole groups, it’s not the Muslim religion that’s flawed it’s the person that’s flawed, or the teacher, to be more specific in this situation, is flawed. And my character is a very contemporary woman. She believes in all the values and practices of my religion but she’s also actually a very strong woman and it was a fun character to play and it’s quite different from everything I’ve ever done.
How did you prepare for the role, I heard she was feisty?
I think she’s appropriately feisty. When you see the film it will all make sense to you but I will definitely say that the character totally defied stereotypes. I think we have an idea that Muslim women are docile and don’t say very much and that they walk with their heads down and their heads wrapped and they don’t have opinions. That’s not the case at all. Muslim women have such a beautiful sense of sisterhood and love and support of one another and knowledge about history and knowledge about the world and knowledge about Allah and their practices. They’re very disciplined beautiful women. I spent a lot of time talking to Q’s (the director) mom about their life growing up and her experience as a Muslim woman and being the mother of five children and how that all worked. She was just such a peaceful spiritual, smart warm-hearted woman who in my opinion⎯I couldn’t have had a better coach because she was really just giving and supportive.
How much did you know about the Muslim community before doing the movie and how much has it changed since?
I knew a little bit but not a tremendous amount. I have the Quran and I’ve read parts of it and I’ve sat down with Minister Farrakhan and I do understand the broad strokes of the religion but for me it wasn’t so much learning about the religion because of the role, but it was more about understanding the practices and the life routines of a Muslim woman and with that I learned about the religion but the most important thing for me was to make sure that the attitude was there and that I was representing all Muslim women, and that I wasn’t just representing or perpetuating stereotypes and that was my goal. And the women who have seen the film are very happy with it.
What has been the response from the Muslim community in general?
The response has been really great. I think they’re just so happy to finally have a piece of work out there in the community that represents them and gives them a voice and creates a better understanding that acknowledges their faith and practices in a very positive way. Our country has been so bogged down by terrorism, and I think the Muslim community has gotten a bad rap for one group of bad people who happen to be Muslim. And it’s unfortunate. It’s extremely unfortunate and it’s like saying all Christians are bad Christians if there’s a Christian terrorist and I think that’s ridiculous. But most importantly we have to start educating our children about the world outside of what they see everyday and once you start to do that with you kids, then it creates a generation that’s going to be far less ignorant than what we have right now. And a lot of it has to do what we’re taught in schools, a lot of it has to do with economics, time, money, single parenting⎯it’s all a reflection of the deficits that we’re in on so many levels. So this film is not just great entertainment it’s also really wonderful because it does teach you things, it does share some things like, “Wow, I didn’t know that,” or “OK, so this is what it’s all about for young people,” and I think Evan Ross, who is the central character, is going to hopefully draw a young audience who will walk away from the film with a better idea of the community. So I’m excited about it. It’s one of those projects that you do⎯a passion project. We had a very short period of time to make the movie and to get it done. When you do a film like this it’s strictly for the creative challenge and to hopefully enlighten communities with something new. We’re doing a different way of promoting the movie through Internet and word of mouth and we’re doing radio promotion, TV appearances and stuff like that but we don’t have a distribution deal. If you look at the films that are focused on African Americans over the past couple of years, it’s sort of it’s own genre and at the end of the day. The distributors⎯the first thing they think about is money and this might be a difficult audience for them to⎯in their minds⎯find and get them to support. It’s about dollar bills and bank. That’s still a huge factor but that doesn’t mean that a piece of art shouldn’t be seen. You just have to take a different approach.
Mooz-lim is in select theatres now.