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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bilal: A New Breed of Hero is a historical adventure based on the true story of Bilal ibn Rabah (voiced by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an Abyssinian slave turned Middle Eastern revolutionary who was a prominent figure in ancient Islamic history. Although it's animated, it's pretty intense, with lots of violent action. There are scenes of torture, kidnapping, slave trading and abuse, war, armed battle, and even some blood -- most of it at the hands of the slave owners who rule the area for most of the movie. The language, on the other hand, is tame except for the occasional use of "idiot," "stupid," and the derogatory use of the word "slave." Although the movie is about one of the earliest converts to Islam, there's no actual mention of religion in the film, which focuses on Bilal's journey from slave to warrior for equality. But older moviegoers may recognize Mecca's Kaaba, as well as the crescent moon symbol and the description of the monotheistic faith and philosophy that Bilal's mentors follow. Families who watch the film together will have plenty to discuss about the story's historical, faith-based, and inclusive aspects, as well as its messages about courage, equality, the value of faith, and the importance of freedom for all.
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What's the story?
BILAL: A NEW BREED OF HERO is based on the true story of Bilal ibn Rabah (voiced by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as an adult), a legendary historical figure in Islam who was the first muezzin -- a person who calls people to prayer -- in Mecca. Of Abyssinian descent, young Bilal (Andre Robinson) and his younger sister, Ghufaira (China Anne McClain), are captured and sold into slavery to a polytheistic, pagan landowner and merchant named Umayya (Ian McShane) in a faraway land in the seventh century. As Bilal becomes a teen (Jacob Latimore), he has a few tense confrontations with Umayya's son Safwan (Sage Ryan), who never fails to remind Bilal of his lowly place. As an adult, Bilal, who's known for his beautiful voice, befriends prominent men who've met Muhammad and follow his belief in one god, equality, and overthrowing the polytheists. Eventually, Bilal escapes his bonds (though not before being tortured) and joins a group planning to resist the greedy Umayya and his cohorts and turn the area (now Saudi Arabia) into a free land.
Is it any good?
Polished computer-generated animation and a fascinating story make this surprisingly intense and violent Middle Eastern drama best for history-loving tweens and teens. Because the words "Islam" and "Muslim" are never mentioned in Bilal: A New Breed of Hero, Muslim families and those with knowledge of the roots of Islam will understand the significance of the movie on a deeper level than those with a less-direct connection to the story. But there's an undeniably universal appeal to Bilal's transformation from slave into revolutionary, even if the plot might confuse audiences who are completely unaware of the story's context or setting. Many geography-challenged viewers may find themselves having to pull out an atlas -- but that's actually a point in the movie's favor. And those unfamiliar with the Kaaba (Islam's most sacred site) may not recognize Mecca, but that's yet another educational aspect of the movie.
The animation is incredibly realistic, giving the battle sequences that much more impact. On the downside, it's occasionally difficult to distinguish between characters of similar age and overall appearance, until their names are said aloud. Despite some missteps -- the violence might be too much for younger viewers, the pacing is uneven, and, at 107 minutes, it's slightly overlong -- Bilal is interesting enough to entice audiences to learn more about the story after the credits roll.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the compelling nature of rebellions that free slaves or the oppressed. What makes them such a fascinating topic for movies, TV shows, and books? How does Bilal: A New Breed of Hero compare to other stories that deal with similar topics?
Who do you think the movie's target audience is? Do you need to be familiar with ancient Islamic or Middle Eastern history to enjoy the story?
Does the movie's historical basis interest you? What do you want to learn more about?
- In theaters: February 2, 2018
- Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain
- Directors: Khurram H. Alavi, Ayman Jamal
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Friendship, History
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence/warfare and some thematic elements
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