Title: Bilal, A New Breed of Hero
Director: Khurram H. Alavi, Ayman Jamal
Starring: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain
Runtime: 1 hr 45 minutes
What It Is: An animated rendition of a true story detailing the life of Bilal, an Arabic slave who once dreamed of becoming a great warrior and protecting those he loves. His dream of greatness becomes easily clouded when he and his sister are kidnapped from their home at a young age and forced into slavery. Everyday Bilal struggles to survive in a town where greed and corruption override equality and justice and tests his faith in whether there is hope that he will ever be free again.
What We Think: For being Dubai’s first animated feature film, they’ve truly made a statement with this work. It is always a bold statement when filmmakers take on the challenge of creating a film that challenges social issues, such as class inequality and political corruption. The makers of Bilal have truly stepped outside their range of norms to tackle a timeless social issue using a historical figure. The careful management of violence and strife makes this film an easy watch for children and yet still complex enough to challenge young minds about their opinions regarding the world they live in. Directors Alavi and Jamal have truly broadened the range of ways in which we come at these topics that are too controversial, too touchy, too offensive to talk about.
As far as the content of the story goes, it’s sad to say that such a worthy story couldn’t have been backed with a more dense plot and character development. It is hard to appreciate the story itself when it lacks substance and rooting interest. I can cheer for the titular character, but only because I know I am supposed to. Who is this character, really? Who is his sister? Who are the masters who torment their lives? The friends who ease their burden of involuntary servitude. It seems as though I’m watching underdeveloped characters going through the motions of oppression and social injustice, showing me what oppression itself looks like without truly showing me who the characters themselves are. Without the misfortune of slavery, I can’t really say I have much to root for in the case of the characters who are supposed to signify some greater relevance than their status.
Our Grade: C-, You can’t watch this film and not applaud the gall of the makers for their content choice. I don’t expect to walk into an animated feature and have to swallow the cruel reality of social injustice. I am dazzled by the color and realistic detail of the overall visual work, but can’t help but to be disappointed by the lack of substance such a topic is deserving of.