Review of Balance – A Film About Muslim Artists Walks a Fine Line | Film
IIn this survey of the expansion of the Islamic entertainment industry, The Balance is presumably referring to the line that faith-based artists must toe when it comes to religious restrictions. As one interviewee put it: “You have to push the limits, but at the same time you are a victim of potential sins, because sometimes that is what a sin is. British filmmaker Abrar Hussain’s documentary becomes noticeably more engrossing when, three-quarters of the way through, he begins to immerse himself in such difficult spiritual situations. Before that, it’s a cheerleading tour through Islamic music, film, social media and comedy that only intermittently touches on the deepest issues.
Often referring to the “we” of the ummah, Hussain makes the curious choice to preach mainly to converts, while choosing landmarks that must be somewhat obvious to them. The Balance opens with praise from self-taught popular missionaries Ahmed Deedat and Muhammad Ali; OK, they were entertaining, but the movie is vague about their relationship to the larger industry. Moustapha Akkad’s 1977 epic The Message, which told the story of the Prophet without depicting him directly, leads the section on cinema. But again, this representative example – quite interesting in isolation – fails to capture the scale of everything that is happening on the ground. The Balance slips too easily into editing and generalities; the social media section, filled with filler about self-obsession and trolling, is weak.
Hussain says there was no Islamic entertainment industry until 20 years ago – but that neglects the Egyptian, Afghan, Iranian, Lebanese and Turkish film and music industries (although he is debatable how “Islamic” they are). Only in a segment on South Africa nashed with singer Zain Bhikha performing in front of thousands of people in Sierra Leone, The Balance breaks out of a Western perspective and begins to convey the full diversity of the audience. The section on Muslim stand-up comedy – pioneered by Preacher Moss in the US, and which became a vital outlet for cultural self-affirmation after 9/11 – is the most pointed. Perhaps because this genre of comedy feeds most directly from the intersection of the sacred and the profane that is at the heart of every artist featured here.