The political economy of urban beauty


It’s SIFF season! Seattle’s Favorite Film Festival Returns This Month with 262 films over 11 days (April 14-24) screened in person and online. We round up some of our favorites. Every day, expect two more Slog recommendations.

Seattle’s endangered black boys… Courtesy of Zia Mohajerjasbi

The feature debut of LA/206 director Zia Mohajerjasbi Know your place is a movie everyone in Seattle (and every other major city) should (must) watch. It’s packed work, and so unpacking it all is nothing but impossible within the obvious attentional limitations imposed on blog posts. But, I’ll start by saying that the star of this film is, first and foremost, Seattle. But this star has two important and different parts. One: the city which becomes, in terms of class, homogeneous. This type of city has less and less space for the working classes. Two: the city that loses its color. Black Americans were the first to go. Now it’s black Africans. Next come East Asian Americans. Know your place takes place in the present.

It was also your city.

It was also your city. Courtesy of Zia Mohajerjasbi

The story of Know your place is profoundly black African. It’s the odyssey of a 15-year-old (Robel Haile) who is tasked with hand-carrying a huge, heavy suitcase across town to a family friend who returns to East Africa. I can attest to the authenticity of this parcel. When an African returns home from the United States, he takes not only his own belongings, but those of relatives and friends. I remember once taking a long bus ride to Shoreline to give a Zimbabwean friend a bag full of vitamins for a sick family member in Harare. In Robel’s case, the suitcase he drags around Seattle (on the sidewalk, on such and such a bus, on a Link train or in the trunk of a taxi) contains, among other things, drugs.

But impressed with this black African-American plot, which also involves Robel’s best friend (Fahmi Tadesse), and the fact that the first is Eritrean and the second Ethiopian deserves another level of unboxing, it’s the cinema’s narrative sensibility Iran of the 1990s – specifically, the cinema of the late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami; more precisely still, Kiarostami Where is the friend’s house?which is the first part of a trilogy that ends with one of the greatest films of the 1990s, Through the olive trees. But where Mohajerjasbi, an Iranian-American, separates himself from Kiarostami and the Iranian New Wave of the 1990s is his commitment to beauty (or aesthetic realism).

Indeed, some of the sadness that runs through Know your place has its source in an unspoken consequence of the gross displacement of POCs by predominantly wealthy white Americans: not only can POCs not afford to live in the city but, more importantly (and spiritually), they cannot afford to live in a beautiful city. In the days of pre-gentrification, one didn’t need a tech job or a large inheritance to access Seattle’s dark light, its large population of tall, thick, leafy trees, its beautiful sunsets and even the soothing music of its rain. In this film, Mohajerjasbi presents something entirely new (if not revolutionary): a political economy of urban beauty.

Will play SIFF Egyptian Sunday April 17 at 4 p.m. and at Ark Lodge Cinemas Tuesday, April 19 at 5:45 p.m. Director Zia Mohajerjasbi was to attend.

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