While the current big ticket item at the Brooklyn Museum has to be the Christian Dior retrospective, which opened in September, there’s another must-see exhibit tucked way on the museum’s 4th floor: Baseera Khan’s wildly engaging I Am an Archive. On view here are rich and multilayered sculptures, installations, collages, drawings, photographs, an original music soundtrack, and a video. Khan’s cross-media practice investigates othering, surveillance, cultural exploitation, anti-blackness, and xenophobia within our public and private spaces — and proposes avenues for protection and liberation. Her work is extremely timely and a real eye-opener.
The Burkini is an amalgamation of two different garments: the Burqa, a garment covering the face and body worn by Muslim women, and the two-piece Bikini bathing suit. Australian designer Aheda Zanetti designed the Burkini — trademarking it as the Burqini — in the early 2000’s to help her niece participate in school sports and beach culture, while adhering to Islamic modesty tenets.
One day in the life of a pair of Brooklyn teenagers moves beyond their typical routine to mark an emotional turning point in the lives of the two best friends in Naz & Maalik; an engaging new film from screenwriter/director Jay Dockendorf. The film’s dynamic script is based on a first-person account from one of Dockendorf’s former neighbors; a gay Muslim man who revealed his own experience as a teenager living in Brooklyn, at a time when the NYPD and FBI were spying on Muslims across the country. In Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant, a heavily African American neighborhood of Brooklyn) in particular, COPs would infiltrate mosques with undercover agents, coerce civilians arrested for petty crimes into becoming informants and conduct door-to-door interviews with Muslim citizens in front of their homes. The overbearing presence of the police created a charged environment, and a similar atmosphere of consistent tension infiltrates this bittersweet coming-of-age story that is expertly directed and acted.
Portrayed by Curtiss Cook Jr. (Maalik) and Kerwin Johnson Jr. (Naz), two young actors both making their feature film debut in these roles, Naz and Maalik spend their days together, earning cash by selling Lotto tickets, Saint cards, candy and scented oils on the streets of their neighborhood, as well as while riding the subway lines. Their faith is also made evident, as they make a stop at a local mosque during their day to pray with the faithful. Their bond of friendship is fast and tight, and, as we learn early on, their relationship has only just taken a romantic turn — something that Naz is way more comfortable with than Maalik. As devout Muslims, their love is forbidden, and it doesn’t help that Maalik’s bratty younger sister has already threatened to “out” the couple to their parents. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.
And then there’s the matter of that FBI agents that starts following the boys’ every move…
As their story unfolds naturally, Naz & Maalik takes on many hot-button issues — racial profiling, religion, sexuality — as the streets and subway trains of Brooklyn advance the backstory of just who these kids are without a need for superfluous narrative dialogue. In fact, to suggest that Brooklyn is also a main character in the film is not out of line.
Naz & Maalik isn’t so much a film about easy resolution as it is about tackling life’s curve balls and trying to stay true to yourself and your beliefs while also embracing the uncertainty of new love. Naz and Maalik are extremely likable characters and their story is both straightforward and nuanced, and highly engaging overall. The film’s original score, also written by Dockendorf is also fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about this film.
After Debuting at NYC’s Cinema Village, Naz & Maalik is currently available via Wolfe on DVD and Video On Demand.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything, a film comes along that tells a completely unique story, and it blows your mind a little bit. Combining highly engaging aspects of a sociopolitical exposé, a deeply engrossing travelogue, and a minutely focused autobiography, filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca is a one-of-a-kind documentary.
Raised in India, but now living as an openly gay, married man in San Francisco, Sharma is a devoted Muslim who is deeply conflicted. His desire is to make the sacred journey of faith to the Holy City of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but as a gay man (a Sinner), his internal struggle concerns whether Allah/ Islam can truly accept him as a devotee, and whether this trip might bring him personal resolution and peace. It does not help that there is a fatwa (religious opinion) calling for Sharma’s death for his 2008 film, A Jihad for Love. The viewer knows from the outset that by embarking on his pilgrimage, known in Islam as a Hajj, Sharma is putting himself in the path of possible grievous bodily harm. Like one of the most white-knuckle Hollywood thrillers, the act bravery undertaken by Sharma in bringing his story to the screen is astounding.
With its primary action taking place in a land where filming is forbidden and homosexuality is punishable by death, A Sinner in Mecca is guerrilla film-making at its most epic. All on-location footage was captured entirely on Sharma’s iPhone and on two small cameras that passed for iPhones. This allowed him to be able to act like he was just talking on phone should suspicions be aroused, and so Parvez Sharma was able to record to film aspects of the Hajj that no non-Muslim has ever seen before.
Mecca is the most visited city in the world, but entry is forbidden to all but followers of Islam. For centuries, only Muslim pilgrims knew what happened inside the city of Mecca, but now this film opens wide a door to that world. Many scenes in the film, such as the pristine interiors of the temples, the crowds of millions of pilgrims continuously encircling a massive black cube, the Kaaba — housed within the sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, which is the most sacred site in Islam — and rest areas strewn with an endless sea of garbage left behind by the faithful, are positively otherworldly.
A Sinner in Mecca is not only visually stunning, but there is also a great story. While Parvez reveals engaging and candid tales of his own up-bringing, as a Muslim whose otherwise loving mother, a poet, never approved of his lifestyle, he also discusses the history of Islam going back centuries. Sharma helps to elucidate the differences between the peaceful, spiritual religion he grew up with, and the violent, extreme and puritanical form of Islam practiced within Saudi Arabia (and associated with terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS) which is called Wahabism. I believe that films like A Sinner in Mecca — which provide an alternate, inside view of the religion — are important for westerners to be exposed to, especially those of us living the USA — where, let’s face it, prejudice against Muslims as a group is out of control — in order that we can better understand that the actions of certain extreme terrorist groups do not represent all people who practice the Islamic faith. This a very important film.
A Sinner in Mecca opens in New York on September 4th at Cinema Village, and Los Angeles at Laemmle Music Hall on September 11th, 2015, before expanding to additional markets and VOD. You can contribute to the Indie Gogo campaign to help fund additional screenings of the film at This Link.
The Worley Gig Gives A Sinner in Mecca Five out of Five Stars.
Watch the Trailer Below: