View from Rue Saint-Georges

A Kind of Homecoming

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Transcending the “other” in art

Screenshot from the music video for “Territory” by The Blaze (The Blaze/YouTube)

By Thomas Chatterton Williams

July 26, 2017


 

I first saw the music video for “Territory,” by the French electronic duo The Blaze last winter. Barry Jenkins, the Oscar-winning director of Moonlight and Romain Gavras, the visionary French music video director, both tweeted about it rapturously. For my part, I remember admiring the video’s beautiful cinematography, but I didn’t think much more about it until, lucky for me, I recently stumbled upon it for a second time. In the space of just five minutes, and with very few lyrics, the video presents an emotionally devastating narrative about a homecoming quest that is as full and resonant as a novel. A young man, a boxer perhaps, has just returned to his family in Algiers from whatever country he had emigrated to (most likely France). Over the course of a day and a night, he reconnects with his people and his land. “Territory” is rich in subtexts encompassing colonialism, poverty, family, and religion. Particularly moving is a short scene in which the protagonist joins his brothers and cousins on a rooftop as they go about their morning prayers. He sits apart, staring at the sunrise, unable to bring himself to kneel. Later, we see them together on the same rooftop smoking a joint and dancing with abandon. The young man dances as though his life is at stake—and perhaps it is. Somehow, the juxtaposition of images brought me to the verge of tears.

Perhaps my emotional reaction to the clip is related to the reading and reporting I’ve been doing about cultural and racial boundaries, the ideas we transmit about what is foreign and strange. “Territory” is a poignant and welcome reminder that even a small piece of art has more ability to humanize the other than a thousand wokeness lectures combined.


Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.

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