I’d say writer-director Jay Dockendorf had a pretty successful SXSW this year. Not only did his first narrative feature film Naz & Maalik debut at one of the biggest festivals in the country, but it also impressed many with it’s true-to-life touch and powerful performances by Kerwin Johnson Jr. and Curtiss Cook Jr.
Naz & Maalik follows two closeted, Muslim teens as they navigate the streets of Brooklyn, hoping to make quick cash selling oils, lotto tickets and anything else the pair can get their hands on. As the day goes on, the boys encounter a series of troubles from being followed by the FBI for suspicious “terrorist” behavior, to keeping their secret romance very under wraps and out of view from their religious family, friends and community. Aside from those issues, the two frequently find themselves battling each other in a string of disagreements, like for instance, whether or not a homeless man deserves their hard earned hustle money or should he work for it instead. But I think what stands out most about this film, aside from Curtiss Cook Jr.’s impressive performance as Maalik, is its relevance.
In short, this film acts as a day-in-the-life of two young, black, gay Muslims. This film comes along just as race relations, LGBT issues, and religious freedoms become hot topics in our society. I couldn’t help but to think, this film could not have debuted at a more perfect time. Through his refreshingly authentic characters, Dockendorf offers a different perspective for his audience – one you won’t see play out often on the big screen. But it’s important to see these stories and it’s important to be able to view different social issues from a different lens, perhaps even directly from the driver’s seat versus the onlookers perspective.
Dockendorf shares with us a unique experience, like going to prayer as part of the Muslim community and being racially and religiously profiled, or even seeking acceptance for being gay from family and friends in an entirely religious setting. Though Dockendorf takes a laid back approach in delivering the story, the film definitely has it’s high-drama moments. While it seems throughout the movie these teens are merely wandering over the course of 24 hours, there’s something significant about simply seeing that – two marginalized teens wandering about life, seeking some type of comfort in each other and the world around them.
Written by: Megz Tillman
Photos by: Megz Tillman / nazandmaalik.com
For L Style G Style – Storytellers of the Austin LGBT community