Nino Aldi, “Tribes” (2020)
In societies obsessed with categorising people on the basis of arbitrary and artificial criteria such as race and gender self-identity, this short film comes as a breath of fresh air satirising separatism as a method of keeping people apart and afraid of one another, all the more so they can be dominated by their real unseen enemy. Three inept thieves working together on the New York subway system – their names are Kevin (Jake Hunter), Ahmed (Adam Waheed) and Jemar (DeStorm Power) – hold up a bunch of commuters with intent to take all their money, watches, jewellery and smartphones. However Jemar sees a couple of passengers are Afro-American like himself, so he makes an exception for them as members of the same historically victimised collective as himself. Ahmed overhears and sees what Jemar is doing and from then on, the film dives into bizarre surrealism as the thieves start splitting up and then reshuffling the passengers, making them run from one end of the carriage to the other, on the basis of various polarities: among others, gays versus straights, cat-lovers versus dog-lovers and “Moonlight” watchers versus “La La Land” viewers. The passengers themselves offer helpful hints as to how they should be divided and several admit having many allegiances, making the three ditzy robbers’ task even more difficult.
What makes this farce work is the fast pace and the tight focus of the three main actors, in particular Power as the black thief and Ahmed as the Arab thief, as they trade quick barbs and witty remarks that ensure the film does not fall too far into silliness or sentimentalism. Quick editing and the film’s focus on close-ups and snappy dialogue, dependent on the thieves’ use of slang, drive the plot energetically. Though the film is short, the action is fast and the goal is to drive home a particular message, the thieves’ characters come across fairly clearly: Jemar and Ahmed do most of the talking and Kevin is not too smart though he gets the best lines. Eventually the thieves realise that they and their victims are all connected in a common humanity and Kevin remarks that many years ago his mother drilled into him this lesson about caring for one’s fellow human being and how hurting others can hurt oneself – just before she shot dead a meth dealer.
The film clearly shows in whose interests identity politics works at its climax when the robbers discover that the train has stopped and someone outside the train has targeted them with red dots of light. The robbers and the passengers are jolted back into the real world as police outside the train take up positions with their weapons. Will the passengers feel pity for the robbers and try to save them – or will they let the young men hang? In this respect the film goes beyond the narrow arena of identity politics and demonstrates briefly how the obsession with identity politics is used by political / economic / social elites to divert people’s attention away from the real issue of who has the power and the control in society.