With the ghosts of his father and brother haunting his household, Reza gets pressured into getting a tattoo, a rite of passage to the only community that allowed him to seek refuge from his home.

Director’s Statement

Markings came from a commitment to show my community in Houston in the most dignified way possible as well as to honor the communal effort in raising men in working-class and immigrant communities. There’s so much life and wisdom involved in basketball and we wanted to share how other’s people’s experiences form can form our own.

Markings is also a portrait of Houston, TX, one of the most diverse cities in the country and a blueprint to what most cities in the country could look like in the years to come.

Below is a piece written by Nabeeha Asim on the film.

Etched in the Heart

Rite of passage. A definitive way to feel that you fit in. Like getting your haircut a certain way to fit in with the crowd, wearing letterman jackets and walking in unison. Or even being marked up and down your body with meanings and symbols to your liking. Walking with the beat of a basketball in one hand and your heart in the other. Reza, our main character played by Nabeel Masood, contemplates the last two knowing it can be his permanent belonging.

“Markings” is a short film that envelops and revolves around the themes of the journey of the youth for their rite of passage, fitting in, and cultural impacts upon tattoos. The coming of age directed by Yasir Masood shows exactly that; a man trying to find his footing in the place he grew up in. Whether that be at home with his mother or with his boys out on the basketball court.

Masood sets the scenario with his opening scene illustrating the struggles of a young man trying to keep good relations with his mother despite the impact of his outside life. Reza, now left to be the man of the house, battles between youth, identity, and responsibilities. His masculinity is questioned within his household, as his mother expects more of him and his friends as they expect him to get a tattoo. 

The film’s most prominent aspect lies within its use of symbols. Throughout the film we see snippets of what the heart may symbolize. In the opening scene we see that Reza hugs his mother which comforts him by feeling her heartbeat next to his. A tight grip but detached hug, he sees her break down and his trial begins. Feeling the pressure Reza leaves and we witness his journey right alongside him.

Reza is approached with the trial of a desire to fit in. You see it in his eyes, in the way he talks, in the way he walks, you see he wants to feel nothing but a sense of belonging. On the basketball court he morphs into the person he wants to be; at home he morphs into the person his mother needs him to be. All the while we never catch a glimpse of who he really is. 

Our parents migrate over, leaving their homes and families for a better life for themselves and their children. Diaspora children find themselves battling between fitting in and being who they are taught to be within their homes. Yet they end up in a no man’s land, no culture they fully belong to. Ultimately Reza chooses to fit in with the culture he has grown up with and the only way he sees himself doing that is getting a tattoo. 

Masood evokes emotions that pull at the heartstrings and keep you from wanting to turn it all off. He shows what it means to be human, the need to have your people, and the want to have your sanity. The underlying stresses of coming from a brown household, having to keep up with the status quo, the constant seed of betrayal that stems from his abandonment issues. Reza only follows in the footsteps he has seen in his life, not the ones that have left him and his mom behind. His conflict lies within his identity torn between two lives.

In brown households, tattoos are seen as forbidden, On the basketball court tattoos are seen as an entrance ticket. To the fame, the wonders, the privilege, the friendship, and the guidance. As Masood has put it, “This [film] is about when you don’t have a guiding presence, so you need a shoulder to lean on. In order to articulate your masculinity. In order to gain the generosity of others. In order to be invited into the rite of passage”.

In the film, Masood juxtaposes imageries to unfold the complexities of our main character. In one particular scene, Reza is shown having a discussion about tattoos with his friends, this cuts to a shot of a man putting the net of a basketball hoop back into place. The image of the misplaced basketball net cuts to an image of Reza, shot with a lower angle camera, symbolizing the idea that Reza feels almost out of place just like the hoop. 

In contrast to this, we see Reza after talking to his friends, on a chair in the tattoo parlor. Which then immediately cuts to an image of the basketball hoop now back into place. We are able to associate the basketball hoop to the way Reza now feels “in place”. However, he is left with the fear that his mother would be ashamed of him as she already disapproves of his life/community outside the house.

One of the most distinctive aspects of the film was the sound score and music composition. Ross Mayfield, composer for the film, did a brilliant job to tie the film together with his composition. Oftentimes stereotypes kick in and overshadow the identity of those the film surrounds. Within these stereotypes we find visuals of basketball courts and a black community to be layered with rap music. However, the composition and emphasis of the score did the exact opposite. This opposite attraction of the music and sound throughout the film allowed for a uniformity to weave together the two worlds.  Mayfield’s beautifully composed music plays a major role throughout the entirety of the film to draw in the audience. 

The tattoo itself was a steppingstone for Reza. It was his initiation. However, what got him there was the helpful blueprint that the Black community left behind for the Brown community to follow in their footsteps. Brown folks replicated the same work patterns and living scenarios that the Black community set in place. A lot of areas around the United States flooded with brown influence shows the very impact the Black community has made, like in the film, Reza is surrounded by Black culture and hopes to be associated with it. 

When asked what kind of an impact he wants this film to make, Masood responded stating that the film has given “a lot of peace”. He continues and says “I cherish how I have grown up and cherish everybody that has been around me and impacted me because they have seen me grow up in supreme comfortability. I get a lot of peace in knowing that I have created something that I cherish and have made an environment that was able to capture the essence of relationships and the nuance of young Muslim men. A lot of it stemmed from humility but a lot of it had to do with the collaboration of other people and being open to new people with different perspectives. I grew in finding my voice”.

Getting a glimpse of the tattoo in the closing scene, Masood emphasizes the characters emotions more than ever. We follow Reza to his bathroom where he stares into his mirror trying to find his new self. We recognize a longing look for satisfaction or some sort of self-awareness. In the end we see Reza face himself contemplating whether or not it was enough or if it will ever be enough? How much of his identity will he have to lose in order to find a new one?