Thursday, July 31, 2008

Film: Uzair by Hena Ashraf

Updated March 13, 2015: The full film is now available for free online.
Uzair from Hena Ashraf on Vimeo.

The Muslim Observer (Volume 10, Issue 30, July 18-24, 2008) reviewed a short film by Hena Ashraf entitled Uzair.

I've received a copy, and I'm writing this after watching it once. It is the first fictional movie piece I've reviewed on this blog.

I think the topics the movie explores are too big for a short film format. This is no criticism of the producer, who I'm sure would be happy to receive a big budget to expand the project to a full-length feature film. The heart of the film is the relationships of the drug addict Uzair has. Ultimately, his most important relationship is with his pusher. His relationships with his mother, the absentee father, his pious friend and the police are all too weak to overcome the pull of addiction. He cannot bring himself to ask for their help, yet the movie does not show us any reason why Uzair feels he cannot trust his mother or his friend.

Or one can look at it from the other direction-while his behavior screams drug addict, neither his mother nor his friend identify Uzair's true problem. The mother is concerned that he pass an upcoming test. The mother is frightened that he may become involved with radical Muslims. The friend encourages him to come to the masjid to learn Quran and listen to lectures, one of which was about "peace and justice." So the institutions of family and masjid both fail to aid Uzair.

In particular, the mother could not communicate in English with the policeman who brought Uzair home and told her that he was into drugs. I'm not sure how big the language barrier is between immigrant women and their children and government services. I've heard of situations among poorer Arab immigrants in Chicago where the young men never see their fathers, who work long hours, and don't respect their mothers, who don't earn income outside of the home and who therefore, in the boys' thinking, don't know anything which can guide their sons growing up in Chicago.

One other thing I should note. I think the film would be more effective if Uzair exhibited less stereotypical addict behavior. There are many addicts in their initial stages of addiction who are still able to function in school and work. People from countries such as Egypt (and here and here) and Pakistan (and here), where there are serious drug problems, would probably recognize the obvious signs of debilitating addiction.

My favorite movie about the impacts of drug addiction is Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. While people normally associate this movie with the theme of interracial relationships, both Wesley Snipes's family and Annabella Sciorra's family survive the trauma of their affair, but neither family can overcome the trauma of the drug addict siblings Gator Purify, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and James Tucci, played by Michael Imperioli.
The trailer is available on YouTube: