Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 April 2017

Florida Film Festival 2 of 5: A Stray

There isn't much to say about Musa Syeed's A Stray, I'm afraid. It's only ok, the acting is not that great, and the film doesn't really have much to say. It settles for the modest goal of giving people a portrait of a world they might not know much about and presenting some of the struggles (very minor, according to this film) in that world. When the woman announcing the film at the Festival said "We chose this film because when I saw it I was just blown away! I didn't realize that this community existed in my world!" I already knew we were in trouble.


A Stray is a U.S. American film in English, Somali, and Arabic about an older teenager living in Minneapolis's Somali refugee community. Adan has stolen some of his mother's jewelry as well as $50 so she has kicked him out of their apartment in the projects. He could return the jewelry and be forgiven, but he doesn't want to (or something), so he goes to live on the street. Adan is hungry and tired, but a very charismatic and fun person. Played by Barkhad Abdirahman (who was the youngest of the pirates in Captain Phillips), Adan is charming and immediately lovable.

And then he finds a stray dog and gets more lovable. For someone who is mostly homeless, the dog causes even more trouble.

But... all of this trouble has been contrived by the film's writer-director Musa Syeed. A Stray feels like a manipulative narrative from the first. The director puts Adan in a series of situations that comprise the plot of A Stray, but Syeed does not explain the material conditions that put Adan and his mother in those situations, and Syeed doesn't let us into Adan's own decision-making processes enough to explain how or why he gets himself out of those situations. So, Adan is homeless and has no job and he wants to pray but can't figure out how and is being manipulated by the FBI, fine. But all it takes is a stroke of Syeed's pen and Adan can have a home, a job, and a religion again. And the FBI can go fuck themselves. No biggie. The stakes are all just so low.

Adorable.
A lot of this, too, has to do with the choice to tell the story of a person who is mostly a kid. The stakes really are lower for someone who is dependent on his mother for housing and food and who doesn't have to worry about feeding a family or sending money back home to Somalia or dealing in a more serious way with the violence of U.S. American law enforcement. Adan doesn't even really deal with structural U.S. American racism in A Stray. The struggles just aren't that serious. I have spoken before about my vague disinterest in stories about children and teenagers. (My recent viewing of Edge of Seventeen confirmed this yet again.) I am just less interested in stories from these simplified perspectives. For a much more interesting story of immigration and refugees, see Dheepan or Mediterranea. Both are great!

What's sort of a shame about A Stray is that I am sure the Somali refugee community in Minneapolis and in other places in the U.S. has all kinds of real crises and issues, not the least of which, I am sure, is related to being Muslim in a nation whose laws and culture are overwhelmingly biased toward Christians. But A Stray is not really interested in that. For A Stray, there is no ill in the world that can't be solved with the simple addition of an adorable puppy.