Slumflower is a film based on a short story created by Street Etiquette and directed by August Romero. In their editorial Street Etiquette discusses how this film is a commentary on the misconceptions of the lived experience in a housing project as told through the lens of a ten-year old boy. Street Etiquette’s work and mission has focused on using style (aesthetics) and cultural production to communicate narratives without words. This short film is no different, it features a cast of roughly twenty men, one woman and a child. The film highlights the transgressive nature of physical aesthetics through fashion by juxtaposing the hegemonic narrative of housing projects and poverty against high fashion. The way we as poor, Black n Brown bodies in marginal spaces use our aesthetics to refute systematic dehumanization can be seen, as we view the acts of a freshly pressed suit or clean kicks as places of resistance and opportunities to reclaim our dignity.
The story centers on a young aspiring botanist named Jerimiah, blurring the lines between reality and imaginary. his interactions with his father, his father’s girlfriend and a housing project poet are often told and retold as memory, aside, and sublet narration. The poet in this film occupies a location similar to that of the chorus in greek theatre, moving scenes forwards and providing the rhetorical dexterity to communicate the complexities and nuances of social conditions that the ten-year old protagonist might lack. The poet speaks as the opening credits appear, his words start;
“stop and smell the roses, the ones sprawled out for men drawn in chalk outlines. when caution tape is the only light to be seen at night. what if we replaced bullets with seeds, and our mouths became M16s, where pullin’ triggers, trigger inspiration and growth. cultivating a garden in the mind, we will sprout and project from these cracks and every crevasse despite the odds, there is no need to cower for in the midst of gun showers, there will be slum flowers.”
and maybe because of this opening discourse, i could not watch Slumflower without being reminded of Tupac Amaru’s “Rose that Grew From Concrete”;
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”
Tupac’s poetics challenge notions of growth, models of scarcity and resiliency. The film becomes in many was a visual versioning of Tupac’s expression. Both narratives provide glimpses into social conditions of Black masculinity that interrogate white supremacist contouring and aesthetics of urban poverty, bodies in space and concepts of striving and thriving.
Jerimiah is shocked to find a stargazer lilly growing in a vacant lot near his home. He worries about how best to cultivate its growth, eventually deciding to remove it from its conditions in order to provide it with a more secure space. Tupac’s assertion is that by thriving as Black n Brown people, we disrupt the very foundation of white supremacy, as its goal is to deprive communities and individuals of the resources needed to grow. These narratives complicate what it means to see the world not through the scope of white supremacy and colonial aesthetics, but through the resiliency that comes from the radical act of demanding more, of valuing self-worth, and positioning ourselves towards future thought. The film offers a complex and albeit in the end, an unsettling narrative while maintaining a level of hope. It asserts that “imaginations grow wild here”, providing a central subtext for the concept of resiliency throughout the story.
Slumflower, like Tupac’s Rose speak to audiences because of its authenticity and ability to communicate the lived experience. The themes of growth in the face of oppression, challenges to scarcity and concepts of poverty by reimagining abundance, and the vulnerability of Black men, resonate with viewers because of the parallels to everyday life. The social condition of Black n Brown bodies, especially those living in poverty, make narratives like this necessary, we need the ability to see ourselves, or part of our experiences reflected back in the media that is created and viewed.
This film through its narrative and aesthetics constructs a space where the view is allowed to engage both in the imaginative and harsh realities while maintaining the understanding that we gonna be alright.