Tag Archive: american muslim


New Muslim Cool

 

The documentary New Muslim Cool is available on Netflix Instant.  Made a couple years back, the film follows a Puerto Rican brother by the name of Hamza, who converted to Islam and credits the religion for turning his life around.  In my opinion, this doc offers one of the better, more personal views of what it’s like to be an American Muslim in a post 9/11 society.  Through Hamza’s eyes, we see him and others build a community for themselves in Pittsburgh, we see his family’s reaction (confusion that becomes acceptance), we see his ‘courtship’ and marriage to a Muslim sister, and the family they build together.

A proud member of the hip hop nation, we also see Hamza express himself both as a rap artist, and then as a cleric going to counsel brothers in the prison system.  It’s  only verbalized once, but there’s also a strong subplot involving the Patriot Act that does a great job of voicing the paranoia many American Muslims have.  There’s the universal desire we all have to provide for our wives and protect our children; and then there’s the McCarthy-esque shadow that only hangs over some of us, thinking  the powers that be can pull your world apart at any given time with no explanation given.

Was that a dramatic enough tease for you?  Seriously, the doc is only 82 minutes long.  If you have a long lunch or dinner break, I recommend it.

 

So, I want to make my first feature length film…

Step one, as is always the case, was creating the script.  I caught parts of Clooney on the Actors Studio over the weekend, and I agree with his sentiment that you can take a good script and make a bad film out of it, but you can’t turn a bad script into a good movie.  So the first of many sacrifices I’ve been in the process of making has been slashing my social life down to the bone.  By the grace of the Humblebragging Gods, there’s always something to do in this town and somebody I haven’t hung out with in awhile (and that’s not even counting private affairs).   But as I look at the Mountain I’m trying to climb, I’ve become hyper focused again about the difference between spending half my day ‘just chilling’, and half my day writing and rewriting.

So what can I tell you about the story?  Well it’s part stand up style special, part documentary.  From a functional point of view that means the majority of the film can be shot in one day.  I have no dreams of being Louis C.K. or Chris Rock, but especially with this subject matter, using my sense of humor and comedic timing is the absolute way to go.  As I started to think about blueprints, the irony was not lost on me that in many ways I’m going down the path of the original Tyler Perry blueprint (film your stage shows and market the ish out of those bad boys to your core audience).  Not that I’m the type to complete dismiss anyone’s hustle, but I was reminded of one of my favorite lines of Malcolm’s from the Autobiography: ‘…anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.’

My superhero alter ego aside, this is also a Mountain that I would be insane to even attempt to climb alone.  I know who I want to direct it, I know who I want for a crew, at the moment I’m satisfied with the list of people I want to interview for the documentary sections of the film, and have little doubt the brothers and sisters I already have a personal relationship with are going to be willing to help.  As I’ve started the early process of building my team, I’ve made sure to drop a little caveat for my non-Muslim friends, of whom I have many: I need your support to make this happen, and you know me well enough to know I’m not ‘seeking’ to burn any bridges.  But that said, the nature of the subject matter and my point of view will rattle somebody’s cages (if I’m doing my job right).  But just because I can say something, I don’t want any of my people to catch heat because they have to answer to some person or group that has no jurisdiction over me.  So I need your support, but if you have to be a ‘silent partner’ or you have to sit back of the theater so your face doesn’t show up on camera, trust, I take no offence.  I’ll be glad to know you have my back.

So the first brick has been laid.  Now, in no particular order, I have to drop at least 10 pounds, perfect a song, touch base with Film Independent, IFP, SAGIndie, research Wichita, get a ‘number’, and start writing the sci-fi story I came to this town to make in the first place.  That’s what I can think of off the top of my head anyway.  I’ve got a big Mountain to climb.

But as the young people say, I’m trending upwards…

 

A friend across the pond has passions similar to mine so when I got home tonight I shot a quick video promoting our mutual interests.  You can see that below.  The mustache I’m sporting for another week is for Movember; it’s certainly drawn attention to that cause. I guess at the moment I’m socially consciously multitasking.

I’m going through my annual rewatching of my favorite television series ever, The Wire.  I won’t spend this space trying to win you over to it, but if you haven’t watched it, you should.  Anyway, one of the nice things about watching a show like this is reconnecting with all the minor characters who fill up the world.  I just passed the episode (minor spoiler alert) where Omar shoots Brother Mouzone.  Thinking he’s on the verge of death, Brother Mouzone won’t give Omar the privilege of hearing him beg for his life, he simply says “I’ve made peace with my God,” and starts to pray to himself.  Sure, I probably smile a little wider than most hearing the brother with the bowtie say that line, but the truth of the statement should ring true to everyone.

“I’ve made peace with my God.”  Everyone of us has our own set of problems to deal with; we’re all driven by our own agendas, and then have to manage the agendas of others to various degrees.  But you lose track of your own peace of mind, you might wake up one day and find you’ve given over too much of your life and personal happiness to someone or something with no vested interest in you.

And on that optimistic note, I wish you a happy week!  I’ll try to get up one more post before Thanksgiving, but the short week may prevent that from happening.

Cheers!

 

 

I’ve spent quite a bit of time the past few weeks profusely thanking the people around me.  Calling friends, hanging out, sending cards: doing right by those who have done right by me.  Nothing extraordinarily good or bad has happened to me (yet), but the desire to be grateful has hit me.  Depending on the exact timing, the responses have fallen into one of three categories: 1) humble appreciation of the bond we share, 2) mutual amazement at the extraordinary number of things that had to happen for our paths to even cross in the first place, or 3) the macho ‘I’ll be vulnerable for 1.5 seconds before I have to start acting hard again’ response.  The learning curve of who we can trust is different for each of us; my case seems typical for where I came from:  Start out trusting no one, you live your life and some bonds are formed and broken naturally, and in the end you have a handful of people that you trust and can talk to about everything.

So one of those handful recently asked me what my ‘social agenda’ was these days.  With the understanding that no one will be mentioned by name (of course), I don’t mind telling you what I told him.

Much as in my professional ambitions, I’ve had a very specific image in mind of what the Aziz Family will be.  In spite of every myth or stereotype you’ve heard, I’ve actually known my father my entire life, and believe it or not, he’s a really good dude.  So that cycle will continue: my children will not only have half of my genetic makeup, they will be raised with my presence and with my value system.

While my foundation is solid, I’m not going to act like my reputation as a bachelor isn’t infamous.  I will always bristle when someone refers to me as any kind of ‘pretty boy’ (blame college), and I seriously doubt I’m taking any options away from Idris Elba.  But (and there’s really no way for me to say this next sentence without sounding like a Humblebragging douchebag so I’ll just say it) I’ve been blessed with the right mix of look/style/intellect/personality/ambition to have relationships with women outside of my religious group, my racial group, social status, you name it.  I can cross over and I have, repeatedly. But being able to do that cuts both ways…

Not long ago I was talking to what I like to refer to as a Dirty Diana.  Realistically, I saw no future with this woman.  But she had two of my known fatal flaws: brunette hair that flowed down to her shoulders, and a slight (non-American) accent. She could have been a Kardashian cousin (not that uncommon really when you get into the Muslim dating world and the cultures that make it up).  But how did I know there wasn’t a future? She couldn’t keep me interested intellectually.  So I just smanged a couple times, then went with the old ‘Yeah so I’m married, is that a problem?’ line to get out of it.

(KIDDING, KIDDING.  I believe in karma people, come on!  We friend zoned each other up.)

In all seriousness though, most of my time and energy as of late has been with the Liberian Girl types.  Fellow intellects, women with a sense of culture, women whose sensuality is both internal and external.  Truth be told, it’s been quite…liberating.  I know I’ve probably doomed myself to another horror story before it’s all said and done, but there is definitely a comfort level that comes from knowing you view the world through the same prism, and would like the same type of home life.  Stressing (or not stressing) over chemistry is much nicer than stressing over “Man am I setting myself up for compromises I have no intentions of making five years down the line?”

So to answer my friend’s original question (since I know he’s a regular reader), like a lot of things in my life, this seems to be naturally working itself out.

Have a safe weekend everybody!

My Representative

 

I made a deliberate choice not to speak on 9/11 this year.  I’ve expressed my feelings before here and in other places, and I knew on this anniversary there would be many other voices.

My friends on the ‘My Fellow American’ project continue to do good work and bring in the heavy hitters to the cause.

But don’t take my word for it; I turn the floor over to the Congressman:

http://myfellowamerican.us 

 

 

A little over a month ago, I was asked what my resolution for this Ramadan would be.  In my heart, I was aware of what I needed to do, but at the time I wasn’t ready to commit to it. Sometimes you go through things in your private life, and your feelings about those episodes should remain private. I don’t mind publicly stating however, that my resolution was to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying with me, over situations beyond my control.  The gift of being compassionate is wanting the best things in life for the people you love; the curse of being compassionate is dealing with a great deal of pain when the people you love are in pain.  I do hope that this series of posts has established that, whatever chaos I have going on in my personal life, my gut instinct will always be to use my skill set to promote harmony.

The ‘American Muslim’ series will continue; moving away from Ramadan I see it as being more reactive than proactive.  I don’t see myself as a religious leader; it’s no coincidence that I haven’t quoted any scripture here.  But as I feel the need to speak up, I will.  Maybe I won’t approach the subject again for months.  Maybe a presidential candidate or the NYPD will strike a nerve and I’ll feel the need to say something sooner.  Time will tell.

Anyway, I look forward to a cup of coffee if I need it after I get to work.  I really look forward to a glass of water in the afternoon as we’ve been experiencing a nice heatwave the past week or so.  Next week I’ll get back into working out again which I’ve missed, just for the rush I get.  And yes, I’m looking forward to football season starting this weekend and stuffing my face every Saturday and Sunday for the next few months.

A bonus clip today, the My Fellow American project posted the video I shot for their mission; you can see it here:

http://www.myfellowamerican.us/videos/malik_aziz__my_fellow_american.html

If it looks like my t-shirt is about to fall off my shoulders and I haven’t eaten a decent lunch in a month, it’s because, well, I haven’t eaten ANY lunch in a month!  Jokes aside, I was glad to help promote their cause (since I consider it my cause as well.)

As Brother Malcolm said, All praise is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.

Eid Mubarak to all of my brothers and sisters around the globe.

 

I’ve talked a lot about what I am, and not much lately about what I do.  I’ve been treated to some pleasant news which through sheer coincidence of timing came while I’ve been fasting.

The last script that I wrote was a semi-autobiographical story about growing up as a Muslim in pre and post 9/11 America.  I didn’t and still don’t view it as the next Will Smith picture, so I only sent it to those who I thought might have an interest in the point of view I was presenting.  One of those groups were the Sundance Institute, and I learned about a week ago they liked what I’ve pitched enough that they want to see more.  Very flattering.  Even my folks back home who know nothing about the Biz recognize that brand name (‘the thing in Utah’ as my father put it), so potentially down the line, that could be a game changer.

Right now it’s just an opportunity so I only gave myself a little time to ‘daydream’ on what could be.  What I write in this space on the subject matter is a reflection of my outlook on the world, but if you keep up with me at all, you know when I put on ‘a show’, I’ll give you a show.  The story I wrote is not an in your face political statement like some of Spike’s films. Even with the subject matter, it’s not a redemption story like a lot of Tyler’s movies. The comment I’ve heard the most from people who’ve read the script is “I was surprised at how funny this is,”; in other words it’s an extension of my strong suits as a storyteller, the self deprecating clown, the sarcastic geek, the hopeless romantic (think Lady In My Life).

So I completed another pass of the script this weekend, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the year.  Through the circles I run in, I know I’m not the only film school geek in the mix, nor am I the only Muslim filmmaker they’re looking at.  Nothing is a done deal, but they’re getting my best effort so if I’m meant to go down that road, I will. For the time being, I’ll return my focus to what I can control this week and this month, and hopefully get another pleasant surprise down the line.

 

At the midpoint of Ramadan, time for a little reflection.

Russell Simmons is one of the more famous faces who has lent his name to the cause:

When I started my own series of essays on the subject, I will say it was refreshing to know of the many non-Muslim Americans who rejected the idea of scapegoating an entire community based on the actions of a few.  If you’ve read Volumes I and II of this series, you’re aware of how important I feel it is to build alliances based on our common goals.

That being said…

One of the first things every boy learns on the playground is you want respect, you have to stand up for yourself.  It’s good for your reputation to have other people vouch for you, but sooner or later, the spotlight will be on you whether you want it or not.  You put your fists up, and then?

One of the ‘second’ things every boy learns on the playground is you’re just not going to win every fight.  Sometimes you’re outnumbered, you just cover your face and take your beatdown like a man.  Sometimes you’re outmatched, and as they say, if you have to go down, you go down swinging.  Not having to win every fight is part of the Game, especially when you enter the world of adult relationships.

Again, that being said…

What if the fight is a fight for survival?  What if you feel a core part of your identity is being threatened?  What if the person you’re fighting wants you not just to go down, but to stay down and never get back up?

There’s an analogy I picked up in film school; it actually works quite well on a larger scale as well so I’ll share it here.  Think of the Game as if it were a war, with two fairly equal sides fighting for power.  History teaches us that in every war, both sides will have their moments. (A one sided war of course, is a massacre.)  Strategically, you have to gain the ability to look at the big picture, gauge where the momentum is going, and ‘pick your spots’.  We’ve already covered the foolishness of trying to win every fight; but knowing ahead of time the 2 or 3 things that you won’t compromise makes it easier to idenify what you’re willing to negotiate on, and what you will gladly sacrifice if someone really wants to fight you for it.

I’ve covered some (but not all) of the reasons I metaphorically put my fists up a couple weeks ago.  As I stated, I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Simmons, but what really strengthens my resolve is other members from within the community who like myself have reached their ‘Enough’ point, and who use their own platforms, whether it be as artists or bloggers or politicians or just ‘Average Joe’ citizens, and do what they can to paint the community in a more diverse light.  Everyone isn’t meant to stand on the frontlines of a battlefield, but as the saying goes, ‘All the world’s a stage’.  Like others, I am playing one of my many parts.

 

So…who are we?

We’ve been here since the beginning of this country.  We’ve been diplomats and ambassadors, industrialists and slaves.

We’ve been illiterate and uneducated, and we’ve written some of the defining essays and books of the American experience.

Our background has made us as a community some of the most conservative members of this society, and at the same time some of its most well known social revolutionaries.

You know many of us best as some of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced.  The NBA’s all time leading scorer, the most feared boxer of the 1980s, and one man who was simply known as, well, ‘the Greatest’.

You know some of us best through our works as some of this country’s greatest entertainers.  You can’t talk about the ‘Golden Age of Hip Hop’ without talking about a number of groups, DJs, and MCs who all belong to this community.  One of the best known comedians of the modern era is one of us; he never said it out loud, but his reclusive lifestyle away from his Show probably gave a loud hint that he wasn’t all about the money.

We’re apathetic citizens who no longer have faith in any aspect of ‘the System’, and we’re Representatives in the United States Congress.  Representatives who were driven to tears having to defend a common sense reality in the face of a political lynch mob.  It’s sad it had to come to that but it gives us pride that there are already those in D.C. who understand where we come from.

We’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, teachers and students.  Some of us were born here and have lived here our entire lives.  Some of us are 2nd generation citizens blending our religious culture with our new homeland.  Some of us are 1st generation, who came here like nearly every other immigrant who has ever come here, for the opportunity to live a life of freedom and to pursue the American Dream.

Because that’s who we are.  Americans. Muslim Americans.

So my post from the beginning of the week, ‘American Muslim, Volume I,’ got a lot of praise (thank you if I haven’t thanked you privately) and caught a lot of eyeballs.  Among those eyeballs were the group ‘My Fellow Americans,’ whose goals run parallel to mine:

Their website is http://myfellowamerican.us , I encourage you to check them out.

And yes, I’m working on ‘Volume II’ to publish to start next week.  Have a good weekend.