David Twohy's writing and directing credits include some of the best known movies in Hollywood of the past few years such as Waterworld and The Fugitive. But with his latest work, Pitch Black, Twohy has truly outdone himself.
At this point, you might be reading, scratching your head and saying, "What is so special about a fairly cliched science fiction movie that reminds me a little too much of Alien?" Well, what's so special is the fact, that Pitch Black is possibly the first major Hollywood movie that prominently features Islam as just a normal, everyday fact of life for the movie's characters.
Robin Hood made a great effort in the character played by Morgan Freeman. The 13th Warrior gave it a go, in that Antonio Banderas' character was also Muslim. But in both cases, these characters represented the exception to the rule. They were the odd men out in a world dominated by other religions, philosophies and ways of life. But in Pitch Black, Islam is the norm.
Twohy, whether intentionally or unintentionally, poses the question: What if there is a distant future in which Islam is THE dominant religious force in the lives of humans? Not Christianity. Not Judaism. Not Hinduism or Buddhism. Just Islam.
It is a provocative question that Twohy answers by writing into the script four Muslim characters who go about their lives as Muslims in a matter of fact manner that is never questioned or frowned upon by the other characters. Phrases such as Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar, Subhanallah are as common in this movie as the yells and screams of terror that the frightened characters make when they find they are stranded on a planet with voracious alien creatures.
Additionally, the Muslim characters speak many of their lines in Arabic throughout the movie, lending to the theme of Islam and its language, Arabic, being an accepted part of life, even on alien planets. Yes, the accents are butchered by actors who have rarely been forced to even considered using Arabic phrases; but it is a valiant effort that never once seems insincere.
But most intriguing is the manner in which Twohy chooses to highlight various aspects of Islamic practice rarely seen by non-Muslim. In one scene, for instance, the lead Muslim character (Keith David), performs the form of dry ablution called Tayyamum, with the sand of the desert planet. Considering the most Muslims themselves rarely have the chance to see or perform this act, it is truly interesting that Twohy would include a close-up of it in his movie.
There has been criticism of the film from some Muslims. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued an action alert last week in support of an Atlanta Journal-Atlanta Constitution review that cried foul against the film for stereotyping Blacks and Muslims. But such critiques fail to recognize that while Pitch Black has its shortcomings, it is an important first effort by Hollywood to portray Islam in a normalized light. And as is the case with most first efforts, there were mistakes. But hopefully the future holds productions in which Muslims continue to be portrayed positively and in a manner that helps audiences see it as a mainstream religion and not just a sensationalized plot side note.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com.