Directed by Robinson Devor. US. 2005.

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This is unlike any black American film I have seen before; the main black protagonist is in a position of authority – in this case he is a bicycle cop in Seattle; has a white girlfriend about whom he is continually paranoid, but the most fascinating element is that Z (Niang) is an African immigrant interesting during this post-9/11 world.  It follows Z through a week’s work (all the crimes he investigates or has to report are real crimes that were reported) while his white girlfriend has gone on a week’s vacation with a white male friend, what we witness as an audience is a Muslim who always seeks out water to pray next to, to reclaim some calm and moments of contemplation – the presence of water is always present especially as Seattle is a coastal city, indeed the film is book-ended by scenes in water.  Meanwhile, the man of authority is frequently displaced from his work and becomes more and more concerned by the fidelity of his girlfriend. Interestingly as his paranoia grows so does the severity (and sometimes oddity) of the crimes he has to investigate intensify. A good sidebar is his constant haggling with his superior about when he will get a police car to cover his beat – the superior keeps saying the time will come, a criticism of socio-economic relations in American society, but here it concerns race, class and nationality.   

Thematically and as a narrative thread this works and yet the most out of the ordinary device is the diegetic opposition of what Z says and what he thinks.  When Z is interacting on screen he speaks in English, yet when he is the singular vessel on screen we hear his internal monologue, in relation to his paranoia and neuroses, spoken in Wolof, this allows us to sympathise with the character on another level as most voiceovers do for white characters in American cinema, but oddly for such an American film you get subtitles on the screen – a sometimes bewildering experience.  This film is brave and positive about its character and his story, along with a fine lead performance by a non-professional actor (but professional footballer) we get to see a black character who has the same anxieties as most white people do, and unlike mainstream American cinema there is no sentiment or preaching required to garner some attention, the feeling is genuine and all the more powerful for it.  A rare treat that should be seen by all filmmakers especially those in the black community.

Jamie Garwood
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