Changing the depiction of Muslims in mass culture through comedy

Changing the depiction of Muslims in mass culture through comedy

PETER TROMP spoke to comedian RIAAD MOOSA about his new movie ‘Material’, which opens at cinemas on Friday.

Tell us about ‘Material’. How did the movie come about, and what inspired the story?

The idea for the story came from the crazy wonderful mind of Internet Solutions founder Ronnie Apteker. Not only did he bring the internet to SA, but he also has a love for movies and stand-up comedy. He met me doing stand-up when I was doing my internship many moons ago and said, “Riaad, a Muslim Doctor Comedian – what an interesting story, we should develop a script!” I was like, “Dude, what are you talking about? I have ward rounds in the morning.” But in the end I decided to flow with the idea and see where the universe takes me. Ronnie put me in contact with Craig Freimond and we started having conversations. Eight years on, and eight drafts later here we are.

How much acting was involved in the movie, and how did you cope with it? I guess I’m asking, can you act?

There are many dramatic scenes in the movie, some of which do stem from personal experience. I think I’ll leave it up to the audience to decide if I can act. I haven’t received any calls from Scorcese yet…

Tell us about your character and how you went about realising him. And what did you discover about acting and its relation to comedy in the process?

I had a major influence in the direction and the authenticity of the script so I understand the character of Cassim. Much of the movie’s building blocks came from me. To make an analogy, I provided Craig with the building materials, excuse the pun, but he build the foundation and structure of the house. The strong dramatic arc and narrative comes from him. I built a few of the walls here and there, but did a lot of decoration – curtains, furniture, tap fittings…

Do you have any particular aim with the movie? What do you want audiences to walk away with after having seen the picture?

We want to make the audience laugh and cry. From a Muslim perspective, I’m hoping this movie will challenge the pervasive narratives out there that everything Muslim is related to themes like “terrorism” and “war.” This is a family story that every person of any cultural background should be able to relate to. The only difference is the protagonists or leads in the movie are Muslim.

* To read more about the struggles of getting ‘Material’ off the ground, being real in front of the camera and why Riaad thinks he resembles the character from Mad Magazine, visit for the full, unabbreviated interview.