Bilal

Jeri Jacquin

Coming soon from directors Khurram H. Alavi, Ayman Jamal and Barjaoun Entertainment is a story of family, hope, survival and breaking the chains for freedom with BILAL: A New Breed of Hero.

Many generations ago surrounded by his sister and mother, Bilal is a young boy who dreams of being a great warrior. In a fraction of a second Bilal and sister Ghufaira watched in horror as they are separated from their mother and become slaves to the vicious overlord Umayya (voiced by Ian McShane).

Told to always take care of his sister, Bilal is now the servant to Umayya and his narcissistic son Saad (Thomas Ian Nicholas) who clearly enjoys finding ways to hurt Bilal. As the years go by, Bilal (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) watches as the other slaves suffer and Umayya demands loyalty as well as coin but focuses on taking care of Ghufaira (Cynthia McWilliams).

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One day Bilal stops a boy from doing the wrong thing that could have gotten him beaten and it catches the attention of Al-Hakam also called the Lord of Merchants (Al Rodrigo). Asking why Bilal saved the boy, he explains that it was to help the boy. The conversation turns to being free and he remembers his own mother telling him something similar as a child.

It wasn’t until Bilal saw Hamza’s (Dave B. Mitchell) reaction to the poor treatment of slaves that he realizes that there is more to life than being a slave. During an evening serving Umayya, Saad makes it known that Bilal is part of a group that believes in
freedom. When confronted, Bilal lets it be known that he is an equal to every man in the room which causes him to be tortured much to the delight of Saad.

He is rescued by Al-Hakam who buys Bilal’s freedom and takes him to a place where he would be safe. Unfortunately, Bilal discovers that Umayya has given Ghufaira to Saad who has no intention of giving her up. Now Bilal must train to fight for the freedom of others until he can come to Saad face to face to reunite his family.

Bilal learns that he must control his anger and pain to ‘not let the weapon dictate decisions’ and although he has plenty of reason to be angry, he learns it serves nothing. As the years go by Bilal and his people finally come back to where it all began and Bilal
makes one more decision that could change his life.

Understanding and forgiveness is everything.

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The voice of Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the adult Bilal is powerful, strong, beautiful and verbally expresses so much emotion. Struggling with who he is and what his place is in the world, Akinnuoye-Agbaje offers up a vocal performance giving this historic character strength and beauty.

McWilliams as Ghufaira as well as McClain give their voice of caring and even fear knowing that Saad truly wants to hurt them both. She is such a lovely character who knows that their childhood was filled with pain but constantly strives to be a support for her brother Bilal. That is an endearing sentiment to share between siblings and these two ladies do a fantastic job of portraying that.

McShane as Umayya is a voice that I recognize without ever having to see his face. The amazing thing about this actor is that as much as I adore seeing him on the big and small screen, he has the unique ability to bring emotion with just his voice. He has the ability to be evil, charming, a bit sarcastic and even funny when called for. In the vocal role of Umayya, it is pure evil and has no difficulty making us believe that he has no care for anyone other than himself.

Nicholas as Saad is a chip off the ole block as a boy who has definitely learned how to be an angry and vindictive ‘master’. He relishes in the fact that people fear him for who his father is and delights in making Bilal suffer by using the love for his sister as a weapon
all its own.

Mitchell as Hamza is the man who sees what Bilal’s mother saw when he was a child. Although it is at times difficult to reach Bilal because of his anger, Hamza does not give up. Instead, he takes the time to explain how Bilal is responsible for his own life and all the decisions that come with that. Letting him know that even a free man must deal with the consequences of his actions, Bilal begins to transform before our very eyes. Mitchell’s voice is strong yet unwavering in conveying the belief that all men are free!

Other cast include Michael Gross as Okba, Jon Curry as Soheib, Mick Wingert as Safwan, Al Rodrigo as Abu Al-Hakam, Ghufaira as a teen China Anne McClain, Jacob Latimore as Bilal as a teen, Andre Robinson as Bilal as a child.

BILAL: A New Breed of Hero is a wonderful story that is told exceeding well in this animated film. The characters are well developed in such a way that the viewer has time to understand the era of time in the Arabian Peninsula. Fourteen hundred years ago the city of Makka was being controlled by a man who clearly believed that all were inferior – perhaps even his own son. Finding a way to fleece all and put the fear of a made up religion in their hearts is a story told time and time again throughout the world at this
time.

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The animation is absolutely stunning with its brilliance in bringing the story even more life and reflection. The scene where Bilal sees himself in the sand is breathtaking. There is so much detail in everything from the eyebrows to the hair on the horses that adds such depth to an already deep story.

From the life of Bilal ibn Rabah who was a slave known for a beautiful voice, he would also grow to be a loyal friend of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Chosen to be a muezzin he would call people to prayer with his voice. That is an amazing part of his life but trust me when I say everyone should read more about this person’s existence because he had the choice to be a product of the heinous things that happened to him but instead chose another path. In other words, he made his mother’s words proud.

BILAL: A New Breed of Hero is a solid and original story along with visually stunning animation that I enjoyed very much. This is an opportunity for families to learn a little history and grasp on to the universal beliefs of family, doing what is right and always
standing up for those who may not be able to do it for themselves. I always find it beautiful when these stories are shared that are set in ‘ancient’ times but aren’t so ancient at all.

In the end – a legend breaks free!

 

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