queen of the muslims

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Malcolm X returns home after his house is firebombed at 23-11 97th St in East Elmhurst, Queens on February 14, 1965. 

After Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam in March 1964 they made several attempts at his life. In June 1964, the Nation of Islam sued to reclaim Malcolm’s residence in Queens, New York, which they claimed to own. They said it was bought for one of their leaders and Malcolm X is no longer a leader. The suit was successful, and Malcolm was ordered to vacate. On February 14, 1965, the night before a scheduled hearing to postpone the eviction date, unidentified attackers firebombed Malcolm’s house at 2:35 A.M. while he and his family were asleep inside. Malcolm and his family survived. No one was charged with any crime.

Later, Malcolm said, “I didn’t see anyone but I sensed there was someone out there. It could have been done by any one of many. I’m not surprised that it was done. It doesn’t frighten me. It doesn’t quiet me down in any way or shut me up. I intend to point out to the people of New York who I think is behind this and what will develop from it, if something is not done about it.”

He was assassinated one week later on February 21, 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom in front of his wife and children.

I love how the whole squad is all silent and tense after Elias called Sana slave woman. I love how Elias immediately apologises. I love how disapproving the guys are.

So, the trailer for Victoria and Abdul is finally up! I’m so excited because I’ve known about the story for years and I’ve always wanted it to get made into a movie. As excited as I am, I’m also a little sceptical because yes, the story is fascinating, but when you’re translating something like that into film, there’s a lot that could go wrong:

On a personal level, Queen Victoria was actually much kinder to people of colour than most of the white people working for her and even members of her own family, who were angry about her friendship with Abdul Karim. She also never forced Abdul or her other Indian employees to assimilate by wearing western clothing or to give up Islam. The trailer gets that part right. On the other hand though, she was still the head of a racist and oppressive empire. The wealth of the British Empire was made possible through the exploitation of resources from India, and this happened at the expense of millions of Indians who starved in famines. These famines are often written out of British history books and not taught in schools because they make the Empire look bad. How is the movie going to address this huge contradiction in Victoria’s legacy? Another thing I’m concerned about is how they’re going to portray Abdul. Yes, he was her friend and her servant in real life, but when you have a nonwhite character like this in a movie, there’s the risk that he could turn out like an Asian equivalent of a Magical Negro, someone whose only purpose in the story is to help a white person.

At the same time though, there are reasons to be hopeful. First of all, Judi Dench is flawless. Secondly, the movie is based on a nonfiction book that was written by an Indian historian, Shrabani Basu. The movie is directed by a white man, yes, and normally something like that would immediately make me sceptical, but Stephen Frears has a history of directing films with complex Asian leads decades before diversity was a hot button issue in the media. Back in the 80s, he directed My Beautiful Laundrette, which was really ahead of its time. Also, Victoria and Abdul is a costume drama that acknowledges the fact that yes, there were people of colour in Victorian England. Costume dramas are known for being the complete opposite of diverse, and the reason why is because too many people make the assumption that there were no people of colour in the UK prior to the mid 20th century. This assumption is so common, so ingrained in people’s minds that if you tell them that Sake Dean Mahomed introduced shampoo baths to the British in the regency era, or that Gandhi served as a barrister in London in the 1890s, many people are legitimately surprised. If a movie like this gets big, it could get more people interested in British history and pave the way for more diverse costume dramas.

Another thing that’s significant is the fact that it has an Indian Muslim as one of the protagonists, and he’s the good guy. How often do you see mainstream representations of Muslims that aren’t terrorists? The studio planned a trailer launch for the film a week ago, but had to delay it because of the Manchester attack. You know how things get when these attacks happen: far-right politicians use it as an excuse to spout hatred, people write racist articles blaming all Muslims for it and so on. At a time like this, it could be really important for people to see a positive representation of a Muslim. 

We won’t know until the film comes out, but I’m really excited to see what they do with it!