Movie Review – Being Black Enough or (How To Kill a Black Man)
Devin Rice is a name you should learn. He’s a young, black filmmaker who has made his first feature. Yes, this movie represents his feature debut, both in front of and behind the camera. He’s the writer, director and star. He also wears many other hats here but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that he clearly doesn’t have that huge of a budget, but otherwise his writing is bold. His directing is inspired and his acting is spot-on. In fact, Rice seriously reminds me of a young Spike Lee, and I’m sure a lot of young black filmmakers pattern themselves or think themselves the next Spike Lee, but Devin Rice has really announced it with this movie. His voice and vision here is so strong that if not for the lack of budget, I would’ve assumed it was a Spike Lee joint.
In several ways, Rice’s film felt like a live-action version of Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks or it felt like a worthy successor to Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle. Not since that 1987 film has there really been a critique or rather condemnation of certain racial stereotypes in and around black culture, especially those perpetuated by rap music. Rice isn’t saying anything new. The basic idea is what John Singleton was also saying in his iconic Boyz n the Hood (1991). Rice is merely saying it in a more direct and bolder way, certainly in a more comedic way and in a way millennials might understand.
Devin Rice stars as Cody Moore, a black teenager in Los Angeles who looks like he’s about to graduate from high school. He currently lives with his parents in a predominantly white and predominantly wealthy part of town, but Cody goes to visit his cousin Kyle, played by Bruce Lemon, who lives in a predominantly black and predominantly poor part of town, the veritable ghetto or “hood.” Strangely though, Cody is jealous of Kyle. Cody wants to be more like his cousin because Cody feels like he’s too privileged and that he acts white. He instead would like Kyle to show him how to act black. Essentially, this means he wants to learn how to act like a thug.
The premise is slightly reminiscent of Class Act (1992), which was itself an urban retelling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. Rice’s film doesn’t have Cody and Kyle actually switch places. Mainly, Rice doesn’t seem to want to give equal time to the idea that acting white is as bad or as destructive as the idea of acting black, at least in the context presented here.
Some might see it as Rice bashing his own people or culture with his repeat of the phrase, “It’s what niggas do.” The thing to remember is that black culture doesn’t have to be defined by “what niggas do.” Yet, Rice’s point is that not all black people do this, but somehow that’s the stereotype and unfortunately the norm for how people think all black people authentically behave. That perception comes from white people, which of course can be dangerous in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, which Rice brilliantly touches upon at the end, but that perception also comes from black people themselves, which here I think Rice finds either disheartening or frustrating.
As a black person or a person of color, it can feel like one is being pulled in two directions or one has to be two, different people because there is a culture divide and in order to survive one has to put on this act. Rice quotes W. E. B. DuBois who wrote about feeling like two people or “double consciousness” in The Souls of Black Folk. DuBois talked about an act that black people had to adopt when around white people. Rice proposes that some black people have to also put on an act when around other black people.
Even though rap culture has become mainstream in many ways, unless one pursues a career in rap music, then acting like a thug will not get you very far. Yet, some rappers think that putting on that thug costume is what will make them seem authentically black. Rice underlines this point. Rice gets very manic by the end, breaking the narrative and deconstructing this thug performance and thug mentality that Cody embraces but ties it back to slavery. He makes it clear that, yes, a lot of this was put onto black people by racism but he also makes clear that a black person doesn’t need to glamorize his chains.
Somehow, in the middle of it all, Rice also injects a pretty affecting Romeo and Juliet story. Cody is reacquainted with a girlfriend from his youth, a Mexican teen named Jennifer, played by Danielle Jaffey. This Shakespearen story though leads to a climax that makes the point better than in Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, which is that the hood has become a veritable, war zone. Rice realizes it literally and despite his low-budget, Rice makes it glorious. I was just very impressed with this young man’s work here and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Not Rated but contains language, violence and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.
Available on VOD via Amazon, Vudu, iTunes and other platforms.
Visit the film’s website BeingBlackEnough.com.
For more information, go to Devin Rice Studios web site.
Follow Devin Rice on Twitter @ddevinrice.