The Taqwacores & A Jihad For Love: Realistic Portrayals of Muslims in Film

With the release of Sex & The City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time this weekend, I am compelled to voice out my concerns over their portrayals of Middle Easterners or in the case of Prince of Persia, the lack of Middle Easterners playing Middle Eastern roles. But I am not here to talk about the issues of these two movies as blogger Jehanzeb Dar covers it with his excellent article on the Prince Of Persia movie, as well as the UK Telegraph’s article on the Sex & The City 2 controversy. It goes without saying that I refuse to pay $12 for either of these films, instances where my activist self takes priority over my film buff self (but if you do watch these films, tell me what you think and we will discuss on the comments below.)

Instead, I’m here to talk about two excellent films that I saw in the past two weeks that are testaments to the spirit that if Hollywood can’t portray us Asians accurately, then we must do it ourselves: Eyad Zahra’s feature film The Taqwacores and Parvez Sharma’s documentary A Jihad for Love.

Eyad Zahra’s The Taqwacores was one of the central pieces for the 2010 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and a film I’ve been anticipating for a long time as I was a huge fan of the 2007 documentary. The movie is an adaptation of Michael Muhammad Knight’s 2003 seminal novel of the same name; being one of the Online Reporters for the festival, I had the fortune of seeing this, as well as getting a chance to interview the director and several of the main cast members for this fantastic film.

But first, what is  the Taqwacore?

It is a punk Islam movement which has spread throughout the West Coast and has inspired many young Muslims to challenge their ideas of faith and ideology. The film explores the question of what it means to be Muslim, not only to the Muslim communities in America and worldwide, but to non-Muslims who mostly rely on the media to inform them what Islam is all about. At the heart of it all, the film explores what it means to be human and the courage it takes to express all that is ugly and undesirable within us. As this film releases in more cities, please be sure to check it out as it is a movie that should not be missed.

Yesterday, I was able to open my dusty Netflix sleeve and watch Parvez Sharma’s A Jihad for Love, a documentary  about the gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims across the world. The film interviews several people like Muhsin Hendricks about their hardships and resolve to be proud of who they are. The idea of being homosexual and a Muslim together has been a difficult journey for all of the interviewees and it is something that all major religions struggle with in this day and age. While the debate over whether homosexuality is a choice or not can go on for eternity, the documentary paints a very clear light that in the end, these people that society puts an almost circus light on are just people like you and me who dream big dreams, seek to find love and happiness, and need to go to the bathroom every once in a while.

These are such examples of film that I would encourage you all to watch but if you are compelled to watch either Sex & the City 2 or Prince of Persia this weekend, I encourage you to keep a critical mind: even with summer flicks, it is our duty as human beings to be aware of what we are watching, just as much as we should be aware of what we are eating. When people tell me to loosen up or not to take things so seriously, it is their way of saying that we should all just not give a damn about anything. While we must appreciate the value of having fun and cutting loose, we are in a time where our actions and voices count more than ever — whether it’s over Arizona’s SB 1070, the BP oil spill or summer flicks with crass depictions of minorities, now is the perfect time to be heard.

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About Edward

Edward Hong is an actor and spoken poet. Passion to make a change in this world through the performing arts and activism defines his ongoing life and it is the struggle against all things unjust that gives him this passion to be one heck of a talkative, stubborn man. It, however, does not mean he strives to be a champion or role model of any community but to be the man who will be honest and say the things nobody will have the balls to say. He is the jester who is outspoken in what he believes in most passionately and therefore cannot be pinpointed that he will do what you expect him to do.
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