A Film That’s Brutally Honest About What Your 20s Are Like

“I felt like I could not get hired. I felt alone”

Look back at the 2008 recession: Economic anxiety hummed under the surface of every social interaction. Estranged from the workforce, young college graduates became alienated and mired in uncertainty. This is the frequency at which Heidi Saman’s debut feature film, Namour, buzzes. The movie, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year and will be available on Netflix on March 15, captures the often mundane existence of Steven, an Egyptian-American 20-something working as a valet at an upscale Los Angeles restaurant after the financial crash. Saman’s lengthy, quiet shots of Steven render his loneliness into an atmospheric bellow that vibrates throughout every frame—in his interactions with his Arab-American family and in his quiet occupation of other people’s extravagant cars, driving them solemnly through a gray scale Los Angeles. I talked to Saman about immigrant narratives and why she had so much trouble making her film.

This is your first feature film. Tell me a little bit about the process of getting it made. It was fully independently funded before it was acquired by ARRAY, Ava Duvernay’s film company. What was that like, selling a movie about an Arab American who’s not a terrorist?

It was very difficult. Steven, the main character, kind of appeared to me as a character does when you start writing something, and I just wrote the script from that space, from just writing about a person who’s emotionally complex, who’s feeling pushed around, who’s trying to figure out his way in the world. So I started reaching out to investors—Arab investors included—and I was really shocked at the pushback. It was a little surprising. They really wanted market-approved ideas—movies (reflecting) the common stories about immigrants, stories about (immigrant characters) needing to get married, (who were) oppressed religiously, or terrorists deciding whether they wanted to be a terrorist or not. I’ve watched those films. I’ve enjoyed some of those films. But this just wasn’t that film. I had a really hard time finding funding for this.

I’m an Arab-American myself, but I think the parts that I identified most with were not actually the cultural aspects, but rather the financial difficulties that Steven faced, and his feelings of alienation and isolation. What attracted you to that kind of storyline?

What you tapped into was really what I was trying to tap into. He’s a smart guy. He graduated from college. And it was a feeling that I had when I graduated from college, which was that I was curious about the world. I think I was fairly intelligent and I felt really alone. I felt like everyone was saying, ‘Oh, your 20s are supposed to be the time of your life.’ And I really felt my lack of experience. I felt like I could not get hired. I felt alone.

It’s just that time of your life. You’re really confronting the fact that you’re not going to take every path that you imagined your life would take … combine that with class and social mobility and not being able to move up the ladder the way many of our parents did. My parents moved from wherever they were in Egypt to a middle-class place in the States and I personally felt that I couldn’t do that myself. How am I going to do that? I think some of that is in Steven as well.

I think we see that class struggle represented in the film. Steven’s a valet and he’s constantly in contact with or in proximity to wealth—and specifically Los Angeles wealth. Why did you choose to make him a valet and not, say, a waiter?

I think for all the reasons you just stated. Those are the things that he’s told to aspire to. If he works around that type of wealth, then maybe somehow it will rub off on him. I think there’s something in him that believes that.

But I also felt that the valet is one of maybe a few places in Los Angeles where classes collide. I know more and more people are starting to take public transportation in LA. I live in Philly. I’m a pedestrian. I don’t even own a car in the city. So I’m intersecting a lot of different people from different walks of life. And I think, in LA, that’s harder to do.

I also find it to be a weirdly intimate thing, to be in someone’s car, in this private space. A lot of thinking gets done in cars. It’s your home base in Los Angeles. A valet driver is in the car for maybe three minutes, but there’s something intimate about it. I think it’s ripe for conflict or for story.

What I liked about Namour is that it didn’t feel like an ‘Arab American film.’ It felt like an American film with Arab protagonists. The central struggle is not about his cultural identity. It’s his identity as a man, and as a financial provider, and as a worker. But I did identify with this idea of aspirational wealth, which I think is inherent in a lot of immigrant experiences.

Yeah, I hope Namour’s part of a crop of work that I feel is coming up now—I’m thinking of Master of None, I’m thinking of Jane the Virgin—where the person’s national background, or wherever they’re from or their parents are from, is not the essential drama of the story. It’s just a fact. Then we sort of move on with who they are as a person.

You know, Steven was born in this country. I was born in this country. I wanted to convey the idea that, when you’re first generation, it’s not a push and pull. There is this fluidity of life, of experience, that you just occupy. You don’t really question, ‘Am I this or am I that?’ It just is. I tried to show that with how Steven understands what his grandmother says to him in Arabic, but then responds in English.

It’s interesting that you don’t specify, in any part of that film, that the family was from Egypt.

Yes. The dialect will tip you off. I just thought, why? Why does it need to be specified? They move in the world the way most people do.

With regards to Muslim-American or Arab-American depictions on film and TV, it feels like it comes in waves. And usually that has to do with renewed interest because Muslims are in the news. I remember Cherien Dabis’s film Amreeka getting a lot of buzz not too long after 9/11. It seems like there’s now another wave, but we’re seeing Muslims or Arabs being depicted in more quotidian contexts.

When we made the film, I did not anticipate Trump or travel bans or any of those things. I set out to make a film about quotidian life and now it feels like a political film in this climate. It’s strange to me that it is a political film. I was actually talking about this with my husband yesterday—we were watching the Raoul Peck documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin. I was just thinking about what Baldwin had said about images, and how images are political. Maybe the fact that people haven’t seen a film like this, about quotidian life for Arabs and Arab-Americans—that is political. Why haven’t you seen that? Why is it coming now? Why was Cherien the first one, in 2009, to put it out there? So maybe there is something to think about, in terms of the politics of not seeing those images.

Photo by TK Anderson, courtesy of ARRAY.

I read this tweet by this Los Angeles Times journalist Matt Pearce which said, ‘If you don’t think something is political, it’s because you share its politics.’ It is political what movies get made and which ones don’t, but it does get tiring sometimes to have everything you create be politicized in some way.

I think I got a taste of it when I tried to get the funding for the film. Immediately, the story wasn’t politically relevant (to investors). That was insightful for me. I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t even get funding for this story.’ It gave me awareness that the two hardest parts of this process would be funding it and distributing it. And I was right.

In a lot of ways, this film is very much a microportrait of LA. But you’ve been in Philly for 13 years. What made you decide to set the film here?

I haven’t lived there in quite a bit of time, but I feel like the longer you’re away from someplace, the more perspective you have on it. I had been away from LA long enough to feel like I had something to say about it. I understood myself as an American when I lived in Cairo. You start to see what’s ‘American’ about America, or what’s ‘Los Angeles’ about Los Angeles when you’re no longer there.

It’s always when you’re out of context that you can put things in context.

Yes, exactly.


When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less

At this point most reasonable people agree that climate change is a serious problem. And while a lot of good people are working on solutions, and we're all chipping in by using fewer plastic bags, it's also helpful to understand where the leading causes of the issue stem from. The list of 20 leading emitters of carbon dioxide by The Guardian newspaper does just that.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via International Labour Organization / Flickr and Michael Moore / Facebook

Before the release of "The Joker" there was a glut of stories in the media about the film's potential to incite violence.

The FBI issued a warning, saying the film may inspire violence from a group known as the Clowncels, a subgroup of the involuntarily celibate or Incel community.

Incels an online subculture who believe they are unable to attract a sexual partner. The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center describes them as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in its list of hate groups.

Keep Reading Show less