Bilal, the movie : An opinion
I watched the movie Bilal a few weeks back. I wish I had written this piece right away, as a lot of my ideas have evaporated away… anyhoo…
“Being a great warrior means living without chains”
These were the words a seven-year-old Bilal heard from his mother near the start of the movie.
The movie follows the life of Bilal ibn Rabah RA, one of the earliest followers of Prophet Mohammed S.A.W. The story starts with his life as a carefree young boy who is captured and sold into slavery. As a teenager and a slave, he is tied up in chains by his master. His mother’s inspirational words echo through his mind in one of the most powerful animated sequences of the movie – A scene of the arid emptiness, with swirling desert sands, the noble visage of a horse rising out of the sands made of the the particles of sand coming together…all set to a crescendo of powerful music to symbolize the breaking free from chains of slavery and anger as we embrace the potential within us: The potential to be great. A very powerful visual treat, and reason enough to watch the movie!
The movie revolves around the themes social justice and equality – which form the core of Islamic belief. It focuses more on these social aspects than religious theology and the concept of monotheism. Social justice is a universal theme and the objective of the movie is probably to appeal to widest audience possible –to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The movie is a delight in the exceptional visual imagery and emotional impact it creates. The dialogues are stylized and the silhouettes of the characters are noble. It makes for a stunning visual, with elegant sculptural figures, beautiful skin, and glowing eyes – all breathtakingly beautiful. However, as an observant Muslim, the part of the movie that I appreciated the most is also one that causes me the most worry.I worry about the fact that the creators of the movie have, consciously or knowingly, applied the modern standards of physical beauty to the characters.
There is a strong group of Muslim scholars that say depictions of Prophet Mohammed SAW and the Sahaba are prohibited. Watching this movie brings those precautions to mind. Bilal RA is depicted as tall with beautiful caramel brown skin – clear and glowing. The skin tone seems more South-Asian than African though – is that racial oversight? What was Bilal RA’s actual skin like? His eyes are glowing light brown. His mother and sister are elegantly proportioned – tall and slim, and would easily fit in as per modern trends of beauty. Were they proportioned thus?
My worry is this: what if they were not really like this? What if their body shapes and skin tones were not in tune with the current definitions of healthy and beautiful. Bilal RA mother is depicted is a wise woman, with a soft voice. Do we know that about her?
Yes, it’s true, the characters on screen lend themselves well to modern visual story-telling precisely because the characters are drawn so they could be on the cover of vogue. No bulging bottoms or pimples on chins. No wrinkles or signs of fatigue and doubt. No dirt on clothes or mud splattered in perfectly groomed hair. How much leeway and poetic license is Ok? How much of historical fact should we sacrifice to tell a good story?
At what point does a good story, that assumes visual clues to appease the photo-shopped and unreal beauty standards of our current to maximize appeal, times become a lie?