Take a moment and think: What comes to your mind when someone mentions animation movies? Then, how about animation models and superheroes? Most people think of Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks. As for heroes, the Incredibles, Batman, Superman, and Spiderman, usually come instantly to their minds. Regardless of how global the cast of some of these movie might be, or how diverse are the employees of the producing company, they are mostly either Americans, Asians or Europeans. This means that the area of the Middle East is usually ignored, and that’s why no one ever heard of an Arabic-named hero like Bilal or Hamza.
Even with the diversity of ideas, stories and morals that are presented in the Western movies, they are still missing to represent the people of the Middle East, their cultures and traditions. They are not just usually forgotten, but they are still, to many people around the world, anonymous, with unknown history and traditions. However, that’s a past, because now, Bilal is here.
Who is Bilal?
Bilal is the first animation movie to be produced in the Middle East by the Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment, the leading animation and visual effects studio in the MENA region. It is also the first Middle Eastern animated movie to win the “Best Inspiring Movie” award at Cannes, and to set a record at Guinness for the longest battle scene in the history of animation. Beside Cannes, Bilal was also presented at Dubai International Film Festival, and Ajyal Youth Film Festival in Qatar.
Bilal was nominated as the “Best Animated Feature Film” at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Nov. 2016, and is currently competing in the Oscars race with 27 other animated movies.
— Barajoun (@barajoun) May 19, 2016
However, all of these awards and records, are not the main reason the movie attracted so much attention regionally and internationally. Here is what made Bilal stand out, and create buzz over the social media.
Bilal is the first Middle Eastern animation movie.
Before Bilal, there was no animation movie that’s completely produced by a Middle Eastern company, nor coming out to the West as a representation of the Arab traditions, culture and history. Although it’s their first animation movie, Barajoun Entertainment used Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) technologies to creates images in the movie by applying computer graphics. This advanced technology in addition to the details and sophistication of the production, immediately attracted global attention, especially of the pioneers and experts of the profession. As Barajoun Entertainment is leading the industry and the market in the region, and with its globally-impressive beginning, Bilal opens the door for big expectations and hopes for more informative movies about the Middle East.
Bilal is the first animation movie to represent some of the Islamic traditions.
Although the movie features some of the real companions of the Prophet Mohamed –Peace Be Upon Him-, as well as the Islamic famous battle of Badr, telling the story of Islam is not the main goal of this production. Reflecting some of the Islam’s great virtues and traditions like: equality and social justice, Bilal is presenting a legendary example for great warriors. It also shows the significant struggles, Bilal and other warriors had to go through to beat corruption and racial anger.
— Bilal:NewBreedOfHero (@bilal_movie) September 19, 2016
3. Bilal is the first animation movie to be based on a true story from the Islamic history.
The movie is retelling the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, one of the earliest followers and closest companions of the Prophet Mohamed- Peace Be Upon Him-. In the Islamic history, he is also known to be the first muezzin, which is the given name of that who calls to prayer. Bilal is an African boy, who was abducted with his sister, to become slaves in the Arab peninsula away from their African home. Then, he was tortured and mistreated for a long part of his life. Nevertheless, reminded by his mother’s wise words, Bilal decides to raise his voice and fight greed and injustice to choose his own path. Besides being an original legend, Bilal is the first African hero in the animation history, and tells an inspiring story of a slave becoming a well-respected and courageous master.
4. Bilal the Movie has an ethnically-diversified cast.
Uniting cast and production team from 20 different countries, Bilal was planned to use the best experts and the most knowledgeable professionals in the industry to present an eye-catching production. It is not about a certain religion, but Bilal is presenting a universal story for liberation and fighting injustice. More importantly, although the story happened more than 1400 years ago, slavery is still a big issue in the world today, which makes the movie timely and adds to its significance.
Bilal: Love and Criticism between the East and the West
Crowd Analyzer monitored the buzz on Bilal the movie and found positive and negative mentions in both languages from people around the world including: UAE, KSA, US, Canada, and others.
Comparing to what news outlets published on the movie, the following points summarize the different opinions about the movie between the East and the West.
How the Middle East view Bilal?
Pride and Optimism
Pride for the quality of the production and the use of high technologies, considering that the producing company is from the Middle East. Furthermore, to have an animation movie to talk about a hero and a story from their history and values, was inspiring and hopeful, especially to fight the current negative propaganda about Islam, Muslims and Arabs, which is spread around the world.
في صدمة سعيدة، لايزال فيلم الانيميشن العربي #فيلم_بلال صامداً في شباك التذاكر للاسبوع الثاني ✨
شاهدوه الان : pic.twitter.com/O73HlQJBD9
— أخبار الأنيميشن (@AnimationAR) October 7, 2016
Anger and disappointment
On the other side, some people expressed their anger towards the movie claiming that it didn’t reflect the real story. Moreover, featuring some of the real companions of the Prophet, caused outrage and insult to others, considering that these companions are highly-respected role-models for them. Some people felt disappointed, however, for that the movie wasn’t clearly discussing the story of Islam.
شاهدت #فيلم_بلال وخاب ظني للأسف، لم يذكر لفظ الجلالة طوال مدة الفيلم، لم يذكر الدين الإسلامي و لم يذكر الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم فما الميزة
— عبدالله محمد سراج (@141worldsuccess) October 4, 2016
How the West view Bilal?
Admiration for the use of technology, and that the story is presenting a real hero from a true story that happened 1400 years ago of an African hero. In addition, the movie is very inspiring and calls for great virtues that humanity always fight for.
— PopCornFeed (@popcornfeed) October 16, 2016
Although the movie is rated PG-13, and that it is an animation movie, it contains so much violence especially in its battle scenes. Nevertheless, the era in which the movie is produced was indeed full of struggles and hardships for people to fight corruption and injustice. Some also claimed that the story was not very clear, especially that the West was never introduced to Bilal, or the settings of the Arab Peninsula during that time.
— Belal Aldabbour (@Belalmd12) October 7, 2016
To sum up, nonetheless, most mentions and comments on social media about Bilal in both English and Arabic languages, carried more positive sentiment than negative. In addition, as people interacted with the movie from Western countries, as well as those in the Middle East, Bilal is starting a new era for animation movies and opening a historical conversation between the Middle East and the West.
Featured Image credit to: Bilal Facebook Page