My Brother the Devil: Beautiful Arab Men in the Hood
In 1995, Saïd Taghmaoui, a French Arab actor, played Sayid in Mathieu Kassovitz's masterpiece La Haine, a film set in a multicultural housing project in the banlieues (the outskirts of Paris). The film ends with Sayid closing his eyes at the moment his close friend and a crooked cop are about to shoot each other. Almost 20 years later, Taghmaoui appears in Sally El Hosaini's debut film, My Brother the Devil, as, again, a French Arab man named Sayid. This time, however, he is an accomplished photographer who owns a smart studio in East London.
One day, Sayid buys drugs from a young British Egyptian, Rashid (James Floyd), who lives with his parents and younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) in a small flat in a housing estate in Hackney, London. Something interesting happens between Sayid and Rashid. This interesting thing becomes an important twist in the plot when Rashid decides to leave the underworld and become a productive member of society. Rashid's younger brother, however, fills the space left by his older brother and tells his friends that Rashid has gone to the dark side and become a terrorist. We later learn that My Brother the Devil is not at all My Son the Fanatic, and that Rashid's "terrorism" involves not violence but pleasure.
As a work of art, My Brother is satisfying; its cinematography, like the two lead actors, is utterly beautiful, and the direction, art direction, and performances are solid. But here is the most amazing thing about the film: There are almost no white people in it. The movie's world of flats, streets, parks, and stores is populated by Arabs, black Africans, and black Brits who speak a form of English that's a rapid mix of American Ebonics, Jamaican patois, and cockney. Lastly, I completely agree with what the critic Cath Clarke wrote about the film's star, James Floyd, in Time Out: "[He] must now be on every director's must-cast list. If Daniel Craig hangs up his tux and anyone's looking for the first mixed-race Bond, here's your man."