Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Since the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been several films and television programs that have portrayed or depicted the fear or the anxiety that African Americans, particularly Black men, feel toward the police. Given the number of negative encounters, including the brutality and even killing of Black men by police, the relationship between law enforcement and people of color is considered somewhat fraught. One of the best examples of that fear or anxiety was Blindspotting (2018). Upon seeing this film, I was reminded of that 2018 title. In addition to the Black Lives Matter aspect, that film was also about the friendship between two young men and how that friendship is tested through a tense, racial situation.
K.D. Dávila, who is a Mexican-American Oscar nominee, and Carey Williams, who is an up-and-coming filmmaker, created a short film in 2018 of the same name. Dávila was the writer and Williams was the director. This feature is an adaptation and expansion of that 2018 short. The premise focuses on two young Black men in college who come home to find a White girl unconscious on the floor. Their Mexican roommate is home but he doesn’t know her. She was able to get into the home because the front door was unlocked. The girl apparently passed out from being too drunk. The Black men debate about what to do, mainly because they’re afraid to call the cops. They think they’ll become victims to add to an already numerous list of Black Lives Matter cases. The short film resolves this issue rather quickly and becomes more a hypothetical about how Black men are perceived. This feature isn’t hypothetical, as it is a more, tangible exploration of the central issue.
Donald Elise Watkins (The Underground Railroad and Bolden) stars as Kunle, an African American student at some college. He hopes to attend Princeton University to pursue his doctorate. He’s an aspiring scientist. He’s very preppie, dressing in button-down shirts and khaki pants, and speaking very formally. He’s what some people would describe as a “nerd.” He’s also a person who most likely grew up mostly around White people and has rarely experienced any kind of racism, if ever. If this were The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990), Kunle would be the equivalent of the character of Carlton, except Kunle doesn’t come from as wealthy a background.
RJ Cyler (The Harder They Fall and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) co-stars as Sean, the best friend of Kunle. They live in the same house, as roommates. They probably met in college and have been buddies ever since, but Sean is arguably not as scholarly. Sean is more cool and laid-back, wearing T-shirts and gold chains. He’s seemingly more ghetto. If this again were The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he would be the equivalent of the character of Will Smith. He’s basically street smart, whereas Kunle is more book smart.
The relationship though between Kunle and Sean isn’t contentious or strained. They are true friends and probably love each other. As depicted in this film, the two of them spend an entire day together. Their plan is to spend the entire night together as well. Sean proposes that the two of them do what’s called a “legendary tour,” which is attending every single party on their school’s campus, a total of seven parties in one night. No Black student has done a legendary tour, so Sean wants to be the first and wants Kunle to be by his side. Yet, Kunle is worried about a thesis project, involving refrigerated fungus. Kunle’s thesis is important for him to go to Princeton, which does cause tension as Sean doesn’t want to focus on school but instead he wants to have fun.
Sebastian Chacon (Tales of the City and Pose) also co-stars as Carlos, the Mexican roommate, living in the same house as Kunle and Sean. He’s more of a gamer who believes his friendship with Kunle and Sean is more than it probably is. Carlos seems to be more on the wavelength of Sean in terms of wanting to party and not being as concerned with school. He’s an interesting counterpart or man-in-the-middle for Kunle and Sean, but his role here isn’t as key. The film is more focused on the friendship between Kunle and Sean.
Sabrina Carpenter (Girl Meets World and Tall Girl) also co-stars as Maddie, another college student who decides to bring her younger sister named Emma to a frat party. Unfortunately, she loses her sister. Maddie then gets her friend and some random frat boy to help her find Emma. It’s revealed that her sister got so drunk that she stumbled into Kunle and Sean’s house and passed out. Maddie assumes that her sister has been kidnapped. She even assumes that Kunle and Sean are her sister’s kidnappers.
The character of Maddie wasn’t in Williams’ short film version. Maddie is inserted here, presumably to add to the stakes of the situation. Her and her entourage provide a looming threat but it’s a rather, comedic one. What the film does is balance a tone that is mostly comedic, even though the topic and subject matter is that of potential police brutality and violence. It’s probably the funniest film I’ve seen this year and probably the funniest film on the topic of Black Lives Matter.
Blindspotting has a good amount of humor in it as well. Similarly, the banter whether sharp or silly is a part of the dynamic between Kunle and Sean. They both banter and bicker as the characters did in Blindspotting. However, what this film has that Blindspotting didn’t is a lot more physical comedy. At one point, I was reminded of Weekend at Bernie’s (1989). This film does have two men dealing with a seemingly lifeless body, except this film doesn’t have as many pratfalls as Weekend at Bernie’s. At another point, this film reminded me of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004). This film does have two men driving at night getting into increasingly absurd situations or encounters. This film isn’t as absurd as that 2004 hit comedy.
Yes, while the film taps into the real fear that Black men can have with regard to the police, it also mocks prejudice whether it’s White people toward Black people or vice versa. Some might argue that this film at the same time mocks that real fear, portraying it as irrational. Given how the film ends, that fear might feel unwarranted, but this film, mainly through the performance of Watkins really underlines that the fear and the paranoia is rooted in a real place. The ending of this film might not be the tragedy of something like Fruitvale Station (2013), but it does subtly show the effect that prejudice and discrimination can have and how it can be devastating or painful.
Rated R for drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.
Available on Amazon Prime.