I was really anticipating the movie Taqwacore, about “the North American Muslim punk movement”. What’s not to love right there?
The trailer is enticing. Unfortunately, the movie did not provide much more than the trailer did. Watch the trailer below, then read the rest of my comments, and save yourself the 80 minutes of the movie.
The background is not explained much more in the movie than in the trailer. Michael Muhammed Knight wrote a fictional book about a house of Muslim punks, and various readers liked it so much they decided to create Muslim punk. The movie has two main parts: the first part portraying a bus trip of Knight and collected Muslim punk musicians across the US, the second about another trip some of them then took to Pakistan.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing very juicy in this movie – it seems aimless and unfocused. All the good bits were in the trailer. The movie contains only short clips of footage from some shows. There wasn’t even a good stretch of music from the Islamic conference in Chicago which was the culmination of the bus trip, and of the first part of the movie.
The Pakistan footage is interspersed with Knight explaining his trip in what looks like a bar in the US. Because the trip itself, and the punk musicians’ purpose there, lacked clear goals, the second part of the movie is even more aimless than the first. We see the musicians try and fail to reach Pakistani audiences, then drift about in a haze, doing nothing but take cannabis. We see one odd, unexplained scene where they are shaken down by the cops for a bribe (about 54 minutes in).
Eventually they pull themselves together and put on a successful show on a rooftop, bringing together different kinds of people like some kind of heart-warming after-school special.
The bulk of the talking in the movie seems to be Knight discussing his life and the challenges of a being a modern, moderate Muslim. Unfortunately, he didn’t talk about the problematic nature of his trip. As far as I could tell from the film, Knight doesn’t seem to know more than a few words of Arabic, despite having studied for several years in a Pakistani mosque earlier in his life. This provides the background for the strangely colonial feel of the effort to bring punk to Pakistan.
Several times in the film the musicians make reference to “pissing people off” as part of their purpose. It’s not clear who they want to piss off – multiple groups, it seems – and how this helps them other than by blowing off steam. It’s fascinating to see punk re-invent itself, providing an outlet for intense, political anger, but perhaps if the movie were more focused we might see its subjects in a better light.