Taqwacore (2009) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Taqwacore (2009)

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Taqwacore is touring around the country and can currently be seen at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH.  You can also purchase it for download here.

Andrew DISLIKEA little over halfway through Taqwacore the group of ne'er do well punks and rockers have an impromptu concert at an Islamic open-mic night.  They break some rules that were (supposedly) explained to them beforehand and are ejected from the performance center.  The director conducts a couple of quick interviews for sound-bites after the ejection and a young woman asks a few important questions about how these punk Muslims relate to the scripture material, how do they reconcile their smoking with the rules against imbibing drinking and drugs, how can they justify smashing things...and so on.  Those are all very valid questions that Taqwacore has no interest in answering.

All that Taqwacore is in its current state as a film is an interesting concept with an unsure hand directing it.  Islamic culture isn't exactly what you'd call in "high demand" in America right now so I do applaude Taqwacore for at least trying to shed some light on a culture that's pretty marginalized right now.  Toss in that these are rockers who don't like the established rules and traditions of the established Islamic religion and they've ostracized themselves even further.

The documentary is essentially two different narratives.  There's the main thread that follows the rockers on their Taqwacore tour through the US and ending during a free concert in Pakistan.  The other thread follows the inspiration for this movement Michael Muhammad Knight, author of the book The Taqwacores, which details the lives of Islamic punks he thought to be fictional but were verymuch alive and playing throughout the US.

There are some severe problems with each thread that keep either from attaining any emotional resonance.  When following the band we're introduced to each major player from the groups that are performing.  This means that almost forty minutes into the movie we're still being introduced to new "characters" and how they came to be a part of the movement.  It doesn't leave much room for getting to know anyone really closely since we're always on the go to the next set of folks.  It's especially problematic since the fleeting glimpses we get of interesting people, like the rocker who can't reconcile his drug use with his faith, are quickly replaced by others to the point where it's difficult to track who is who.  No one personality shines through and the examination of each of them is so shallow that we get a couple of soundbites about being a Muslim and that's it.

Sadly, these pictures from the shows are more energetic than anything you see in the movie.

Then there's the matter of the Michael Muhammad Knight thread.  The film cuts back to a reading where he talks about the tour and reads from his book to a silent and appreciative crowd.  I respect his intentions to a certain degree, but the film ends up painting him as a bit of a Christ figure and in a none too appealing fashion.  He never got over the way he treated his mother when he was growing up a Muslim (he thought she was going to hell) and repeats many, many times throughout the movie with the same doe-eyed expression how, like, mindblowing it is that there was this movement that he wrote about and now it's real.  He rarely comes off authentic and the many conversations that he has with Imams and other religious leaders in Pakistan come off very staged to the point of each participant being told where to stand.

This feeling of inauthenticity plagues most of the film.  It's revealed that some of them have different outlooks on how to approach the punk/Islam topic (some peace, some destruction) but we never see them debate or discuss that tension.  We do get to see them pray, but never how they really feel about the rules of Islam or if any of them try to follow the rules at all.  At best they come off as misunderstood people that aren't given enough time to explain their positions.  At worst they come off as anachronistic poseurs with no understanding of the religion that they claim to adhere to (please don't say "peace and love" one second then "f*** George Bush" and smash a guitar the next).

I must make this clear that none of this is explicitly the fault of the participants, but of the director Omar Majeed.  He casts the net too wide by introducing us to everyone and following no one the whole experience is left a little shallow.  While Michael may have helped gather everyone together, he is not who Omar should have chosen to anchor the documentary around.  Sadly, there is more insight and poignancy into the modern Muslim experience during thirty seconds of a rappers freestyle (featured about halfway through the film) than in any of the band threads.  Pity that the movie wasn't about his words instead.

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Taqwacore (2009)

Directed by Omar Majeed.

Posted by Andrew

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