Slam first published by EyeforFilm
After once more venting her feminist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist anger onstage in an elegantly constructed tirade of words (in fact penned by spoken-word artist/activist Candy Royalle, who has since passed away), Syrian-Australian slam poet Ameena Nasser (Danielle Horvat) vanishes. As he searches for the missing younger sister from whom he had already long since become estranged, ‘Ricky’ (Adam Bakri) – an Anglicisiation of his birth name Tarik – must negotiate not just a hostile media and police harassment, but also an awkward no-man’s-land between his native culture and his adopted nation, even as he is still haunted by the childhood trauma that drove him to migrate, and assimilate, to Australia in the first place. Meanwhile, coming with ghosts of her own, police officer Joanne Hendricks (Rachael Blake) finds her missing persons investigation into Ameena leading her to doubt the prevalent tenets and ideologies of her male superiors – and of her country.
All this unfolds against the backdrop of a corresponding disappearance in Syria, as the Australian pilot of a downed fighter plane is abducted by IS, raising the heat and dust of Islamophobia all over the Australian airwaves. Writer/director Partho Sen-Gupta (Let The Wind Blow, 2004; Sunrise, 2014) structures Slam as a mystery thriller, keeping us guessing from the very start whether Ameena has been taken by the online white supremacists who keep sending her death threats, or has joined a militant jihad abroad against the West. It could go either way, but the tension between these two positions engenders a critical dialectic along the Lucky Country’s well-guarded borders of race, class and gender. As a film concerned in part with the question of whether – and how – words (rage-fuelled political poetry, violent online trolling) might lead to action, Slam is itself a little overwritten, hammering home too hard its messages about terrorism (domestic, in every sense, as much as external) and the clash of identity. Still, these are urgent issues, and Sen-Gupta offers a suitably complicated picture of them in compelling dramatic form.
© Anton Bitel