In 1991, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was released to mixed reviews. The film is remembered mostly as a Hollywood cash grab, complete with toys and hit singles. It’s remembered more fondly, perhaps, by young Muslims who unexpectedly found a hero in Nottingham.
Azeem, played by Morgan Freeman, was Robin Hood’s Moorish companion. They were cell
mates in the dungeons of Jerusalem where Robin had been taken captive as a crusader in the
fight to retake the Holy Land from the savage Saracens. I know what you’re thinking. Just bare
with me. Robin frees Azeem and they escape together. Azeem makes an oath to protect Robin until his vow is fulfilled. He accompanies Robin back to England and this is where things
become quite interesting and relatable for Muslim-Americans struggling to feel a sense of belonging. In England, Azeem faces racism and discrimination. Not only by enemies, but by so-called friends. It is how he responds to this that makes him one of the greatest and most underrated heroes in all of cinema.
Azeem doesn’t curse them back. He doesn’t cower or run away. He doesn’t yell and scream and demand equality and respect. First, because he genuinely doesn’t care what others think of him or his beliefs. On more than one occasion, he makes it clear that it’s only Allah's judgement that concerns him. Azeem feels no need to impress anyone. He doesn’t change his name, or his clothing in order to “fit in”. While he carries himself with genuine humility, it’s clear that he has confidence in his beliefs and identity as a Muslim. He does however, earn everyone's respect through his noble actions.
Despite being called a savage, he displays a high degree of sophistication and intelligence. He teaches them how to use technologies like lenses and explosive powder. He performs a surgery on a pregnant woman, saving both mother and child from certain death. He stops whatever he is doing to perform his daily prayers, refuses alcohol and even teaches people about his faith. When asked by a little girl why God “painted” him, he responds by telling her that Allah loves wondrous variety. He’s also a badass warrior who fights with a scimitar and is considered to be the most capable fighter in the land. And when all seems lost, it’s Azeem who rallies everyone to join them in the fight against tyranny with a speech that would make Malcolm X proud.
One could imagine the impact that a character of this caliber would have on young Muslims in foreign lands struggling with their own identities. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a film on Azeem himself. Personally, I’d love to see his backstory of which all that is known is that he was imprisoned over a woman whom he claimed was worth dying for. Or a film on his future.
Did he return to his home to fight for his beloved? Or did he adopt this foreign land as his new home? I may have just come up with the subject of my next screenplay.