‘Sheikh Jackson’ moonwalks into Toronto International Film Festival

Source:AFP Published: 2017/9/13 18:33:39

Egyptian director Amr Salama pays homage to the late Michael Jackson in his new film Sheikh Jackson, a tale of how a young imam struggles to reconcile his desire to be a better Muslim with his love for the King of Pop.

The film is based loosely on Salama's own life as a former orthodox Muslim whose obsession with the popstar caused him a crisis of faith.

"This film is a turning of the page on so many obstacles in the road [in my life] in terms of identity and faith crises," Salama said in an interview with AFP ahead of the film's Friday premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Although many older conservatives and orthodox Muslims in the Middle East may have despised Jackson during his lifetime as "a freak, the guy who changed his color," Salama said he was wonderstruck when he first listened to his music.

"He was a poor black kid who grew up to be one of the most famous people in the world, his music crossed borders," he said.

Salama recalled how the father of a friend who introduced him to Jackson's music "gave him [the friend] hell for liking Michael Jackson."

"My own father was also not happy about me listening to Michael Jackson," he added.

The film stars Ahmed Malek as the main character Khaled, who worships Jackson.

But he is eventually steered away from the "Man in the Mirror" by a macho father who fears his son becoming soft, and later by religious mentors who encourage him to preach to "those who dance to the music of the devil" to reject pop culture.

An older Khaled, played by Ahmad El-Fishawi, is torn up inside. "I don't want to be a hypocrite," he says in the film.

"For Muslims, to not walk the talk is a sin," Salama explains.

The writer-director said he hoped to reveal devout Muslims' inner struggle, rather than criticize them.

The character Khaled, he notes, "wants to be devoted but he just can't" because of his love of Jackson's music.

How does one juggle these contradictions? "I don't have an answer for that," Salama admits. "That's the question that the film asks, more than answers."

"I think we just need to accept our contradictions and all ourselves," he then offers.

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