Let’s get this out of the way at the jump: I’m not going to be insulting anyone’s intelligence and pretend like I actually know what is going on in Shahmaran, the spellbinding short film from visionary Ghanaian director Emmanuel Adjei and the emerging Iranian-Dutch artist Sevdaliza.

That hasn’t stopped me from watching it on loop for the past hour, nor will it keep me from confidently suggesting I’ve unlocked all the secrets in this highly symbolic film for the rest of this post.

But before we get to all that, spend the next six minutes and fifty seconds being transported to a dream world the likes of which seem familiar and simultaneously alien. This is a film these two artists have been working on for the past three years and it’s well worth the wait.



So there are a few obvious takeaways from this film, the first of which is it’s heavy on the imagery. Some of which is obvious, i.e. a black man in bondage, others bits less so.

Shahmaran is a mythical creature in Iran, the queen of the serpents. The Shahmaran is often depicted as a wise, intelligent woman, having female features above the waist and those of a serpent below. What all this has to do with this story, besides explain the role Sevdaliza in it, is legitimately lost on me, but I am nonetheless glad to have learned about the middle eastern snake queen.

The film starts with our unnamed protagonist floating in clear water looking like Han Solo’s frozen in carbonite ass. From there we cut to a barren desert in which he and several other black men are tied up with ropes and dragging something behind them. As they struggle mightily with their task, the camera pays close attention to the modern clothing all the men sport.

The camera eventually pans out to show the group dragging a futuristic yacht through the crack-filled sand. The absurdity and contrast is not lost on the viewer. From their our hero breaks free, wandering the desert, passing a series of decaying bodies.  He eventually stumbles upon what some sort of futuristic, mirrored underground fortress. Inside there's translucent sports car, record, and semi-automatic machine gun, as the imagery gets extremely heavy-handed before diving headlong into the abstract. There’s also the Shahmaran, represented by Sevdaliza in some sort of chandelier-bikini hybrid 

Given how much there is to unpack here, a multitude of interpretations could be valid. But here’s what the man who actually directed the short had to say about it.

“Carrying the burden of their ancestors, most black men today are still born into an environment that limits their freedom. Lost in a hazardous place from which they can’t seem to escape, their survival mechanisms have become their guide when making decisions. Whilst growing up, they have learned to fixate on the place where they know they need to be. Drawn to the dream of having power and success, they hold on to a false idea of autonomy. Yet, it is this house of freedom that has enslaved these men again. Chained to a fantasy, often of a materialistic nature, they remain upright throughout survival.”

And there you have it.

Now go watch Shahmaran again.


Calvin Paradise is not any one thing. The half-hearted vagabond and forgetful luddite currently resides in Los Angeles and how he spends his time is none of your damned business.