Focusing on the experience of two black teenage Muslims living life in modern day New York City, director Jay Dockendorf introduces us to Naz & Maalik a film starring Curtiss Cook Jr. and Kerwin Johnson. With inspiration from real life accounts of a past associate of Dockendorf who shared these same characteristics, Naz & Maalik sheds light on a demographic of the population that is heavily underrepresented in television and film. We often see the narratives of black men and sometimes Muslim men. However the narrative of an individual who shares all of these elements is all but non-existent in film, television, literature, and music. This under-representation helps to contribute to the epidemic of white fear in America; the fear of the minority, and the fear of the non-Christian.
The film takes audiences on a very spontaneous and sometimes confusing walk in the shoes of the characters Naz and Maalik. However these experiences are spontaneous and sometimes hard to grasp not because of any fault linked to the script or the director but more so it serves as a direct and valid symbolic scope of the experience of individuals who share the same journey as Naz & Maalik. There are many battles that both characters continue to deal with for the duration of the film. They struggle to accept their sexuality and how it correlates with their religion as well as honoring their religion while matriculating within society. They struggle with the experience of being black males; there is also a struggle to have an inner peace which is highly attributed to the fact that both characters have an unspecified legal issue that seems to haunt them.
It’s important to notice that this film uncovers many skeletons in America’s closet. The first major skeleton is that black males in America are placed in a position where they must always be alert of their actions and surroundings in order to protect themselves from the forever lingering presence of punitive reaction from police and law enforcement. In addition, this film demonstrates the realness and existence of surveillance on not only black males but Muslims in general. This became a very popular practice with police and the FBI in New York City and America after 9/11. Not to mention New York also adopted the stop and frisk practice which disproportionately affects black males in comparison to other populations.
We’re taken on a firsthand account on the day in the life of these characters and are quickly reminded that there are many inner and outer battles that both characters are forced to deal with. This film could actually be a continuing series or longer project because there are so many arenas that are covered and presented. The gentrification of many urban neighborhoods and metropolitan cities is one of them.
A brief reference to this account takes place during a scene where Naz becomes acquainted with an older white man who moves into the BedStuy neighborhood and is also looking to become more familiar with Naz intimately. The scene helps to symbolize the meeting of two separate worlds divided by race, class, and maturity brought together by the component of lust and fantasy by one character and a trusting innocence from the other. In addition, a glance on the struggle to afford a decent education in America is highlighted as both characters continuously hustle and work to raise extra funds for the possibility to pay for college.
The world of friendship, love, and lust also collide as we witness the unstable roller coaster of a relationship between the main characters. Much of their imbalance comes from the fact that both characters are very young but in very complicated adult situations. There is a lack of trust and transparency within their relationship. Their youthful innocence also makes them very naive to the surveillance and attempted set ups by law enforcement that they continue to encounter throughout the film. There are moments in the film where as a viewer you hope the characters are well aware of their rights as citizens.
Overall the film is something different to digest. If you’re aiming to watch the film in hopes of having a feeling of completion by the films end you may be disappointed. However, if you are aiming to put aside your traditional expectations and really approach this project with an open mind and eagerness to journey outside of the norm you will leave this film with a desire to quest for more from the director.
Naz & Maalik centers on a realm of society that is so rare and understated when it comes to representation in film that there can barely be and expectation from the viewer on what to expect because there is nothing to compare it to. The film lightly scratches the surface of a multitude of topics and helps to open the door for more projects with a similar tone and presentation.
Naz & Maalik
Starring Kerwin Johnson, Jr. and Curtiss Cook, Jr.
Written and directed by Jay Dockendorf
Naz & Maalik is in theaters today! *Limited Release until January 22, 2016
Available on DVD and Video on Demand January 25, 20116