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This American Life

By Belinda Acosta, Fri., June 19, 2009

<i>New Muslim Cool</i>
New Muslim Cool

Early in New Muslim Cool, the film kicking off the new season of POV on PBS, a radio interviewer says to Hamza Pérez: "You're Muslim, American, a Puerto Rican from the hood, an artist, and a rapper. Sounds like you're America's worst nightmare."

One person's nightmare is another person's American experience.

What Jennifer Maytorena Taylor's film does brilliantly is show the complexity of the hybridized immigrant story in kaleidoscopic relief. In this case, Taylor keeps her eye trained on Hamza. A Puerto Rican who was raised Roman Catholic, Hamza was a petty drug dealer on the road to prison until he had a deeply felt religious conversion to Islam as a young man. As his brother Sulíman jokes, they don't speak English, Spanish, or Arabic well. ("We know Arabic Spanglish Ebonics," he says.) Hamza eventually marries a black Muslim woman. Instead of being incarcerated, he works as a spiritual advisor, offering prison inmates alternatives to the lives that got them incarcerated. As the rap duo Mujahideen Team (M-Team), Hamza and Sulíman work to spread the word of Islam using street beats. Eventually, Hamza builds alliances with cultural workers from other religious and ethnic backgrounds. But anyone looking for a feel-good, "We Are the World" sort of film may be in for a shock. As New Muslim Cool reveals, defining the American experience is an ongoing process.

New Muslim Cool airs June 23 at 9pm on PBS.


More Summer Premieres and Returns

June 20: Eli Stone (9pm on ABC) returns, but don't get too excited: ABC is just burning off the last four episodes of the quirky (and canceled) comedy about a lawyer who sees and hears strange things thanks to a brain tumor.

June 21: Impact (8pm on ABC) is a two-part miniseries about the moon falling out of the sky and making life on earth disastrous... A prequel to the Arthur legend, Merlin (7pm on NBC) looks at Merlin and his future king as young men... And David Suchet reprises the role of the famous Belgian detective for two new Hercule Poirot mysteries on Masterpiece Mystery! (8pm on PBS).

June 23: The Cleaner (9pm on A&E), the Benjamin Bratt series about an ex-addict helping users and abusers kick their nasty habits, returns with Whoopi Goldberg coming by a few times during the second season... Celebrities team up and compete in Olympic-like athletic competitions on The Superstars (7pm on ABC), while we watch at home, hoping poor sportsmanship flares up.

June 24: The Real World: Cancun (9pm on MTV) means eight new kids looking for their 15 minutes of fame, this time in a hot tub in Mexico... On The Philanthropist (9pm on NBC), Rome's James Purefoy plays a rich party boy who decides to put aside the good life for a life devoted to doing good deeds instead.

June 28: A dark comedy with an unfortunate title, Hung (9pm on HBO) stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as a financially strapped schoolteacher who decides to moonlight as a male escort.

Returning in July: the boys of Entourage (HBO), the charming yet overlooked Eureka (on the Sci Fi Channel, which will be rebranded Syfy come July 7), and that lovable rogue Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations (Travel Channel).

Notable new series on the horizon: Warehouse 13 (Syfy), another series about extraterrestrials, focuses on the mystery of the things they leave behind... Michael & Michael Have Issues (Comedy Central), reunites Stella co-stars Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter for a new sketch comedy show... Dark Blue (TNT), starring Dylan McDermott (The Practice), is the newest crime drama by Jerry Bruckheimer... On Being Human (BBC America), a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost are roommates. It's actually not as crazy as it sounds, but I've only seen the first episode.

As always, stay tuned.

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