Media Analyst Zizzy's Take on Naz and Maalik

By Zizzy Murphy ‘19

Media Analyst

Hi, I’m Zizzy, a junior at Scripps and the Voice’s media analysis columnist for the 2017-18 school year! While similar columns to this have generally focused on new and hot releases, I am shifting the focus to lesser-well-known pieces of media, particularly those featuring diverse stories and storytellers. While I still may go for some more newsworthy movies on occasion, the new motive for this column is to highlight for the Scripps and broader 5c community narratives they may have missed or not even know existed.

There is a caveat to the intention of this column: I am not interested in reviewing films simply because they are “good” or their budget means they were able to have a certain standard of cohesion throughout the entire filmmaking process. I want to look at imperfect works that did not have the chance to necessarily reach their full potential and probe why that might be. I also want to run the gamut of the kinds of media reviewed here in terms of genre and style. This means B horror comedies, anime shows, and cult classics are all up for review.

My first order of business before getting to my inaugural review is an ask for you, the readership of the Scripps Voice: are there specific titles you would like to see highlighted and pieced apart here? Send them my way by emailing suggestions to emurphy1288@scrippscollege.edu.

This week’s title is the 2015 American film Naz and Maalik, an introspective piece looking at a single afternoon in the lives of two black closeted gay Muslim teenagers living in Brooklyn. The watch-worthy elements of the film have most to do with its beautiful camera work and the developing relationship between Naz and Maalik. Though the script manufactures obscure reasons for the two to fight that seems to stem largely from a need to advance the narrative drama, the strength of the film comes from the easy familiarity felt between the boys as they wander through streets, parks, and everyday conversations. This is the first credited feature film for both of the leads, Curtiss Cook Jr. and Kerwin Johnson Jr., who deserve much credit for the willingness to which they allow the camera to observe them in absence of dialogue or major action. Credit is also owed to the clear beauty that the film sees in both boys. Their black love forgoes the usual tropes of over-sexualization in favor of embracing the softness of a first romance and the timid touches which go along with the evolution from friends to lovers.

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The ease with which religious identity permeates the film - in greetings of as- salāmu ʿalaykum, in questions of whether Muhammad ate mangoes - offers a rare opportunity for Islam to be taken as a given in the lives of these protagonists.

There is some shoehorned islamophobia in the form of an FBI agent with seemingly too much time on her hands, but the surveillance she represents pales in comparison to the self-surveillance taking place in both Naz and Maalik’s careful navigation of the closet, a result not of personal reckonings with conflicts of sexuality and religion but the fear of judgment by outside observers and family members. Though Naz and Maalik obviously understand the precarious intersection of identity they hold, they are refreshingly allowed to breathe within that space rather than be crushed by it, offering a gentle hope that their internal progress can eventually be met by external change.

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