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Some films just feel like they belong to someone else, like we are looking in on something so personal we might not ever truly know everything it wants to say. They speak to an experience that aims to be universal but is by definition anything but, leaving these films undeniably moving if not slightly out of reach. Such is the case with the highly uncommon Being Black Enough, a thoroughly in-your-face film that is bold in its message as it calls out in no uncertain terms what it means to be black in the United States.
Typically, media has long portrayed the ‘black experience’ in movies in broader strokes, with the gangsta and hip-hop scenes dominating the genre, made famous in music videos and groundbreaking cinema. It has of course perpetuated a stereotype that the industry has embraced, creating an expectation in both movies and, perhaps more so, real life. So it is with Cody (Devin Rice), a young black man from a predominately white neighborhood in Los Angeles who is ridiculed by his friends and classmates for not being black enough, not knowing anything about rap stars and black history and the walk and the talk and so much more. Trying to learn, he watches and mimics music videos before heading into the ‘hood to spend time with his cousin, discovering what it takes to be black. But wanting to be and actually being is a reality that throws Cody into chaos.
Written and directed by Rice, and loosely based on his own life, Being Black Enough is a curious experiment, a film that while darkly satirical and highly critical of racial perceptions, has plenty of bite though sometimes comes up just short in cutting right to the bone. That said, its message is severe and works hard to gut the difference between what we see on TV and what is reality, cleverly breaking the narrative with cutaways that further expand on the immediate theme, such as Cody busting into a typical hip-hop music video when he sees Jennifer (Danielle Jaffey), a lovely girl he’s liked for years and hopes to gain her attention. Often times the movie stops cold and cuts to characters in front of ebony black backgrounds starting straight into the camera (meant to be the eyes of Cody) telling it to him straight. They are eye-opening diatribes that while purposefully uncomfortable (the ‘N’ word is blasted at the screen like bullets from a rifle), enlighten and redefine.
The best of these comes from a gangsta named Deshawn (Matthew-David Smith), who lays out one hell of a rap on Cody that is the film’s centerpiece, an unflinchingly emotional tirade that packs the biggest wallop. And this is the hallmark of Being Back Enough, a movie that doles out a pretty steady run of surprises. While it’s easy to make comparisons with the leaders in this pack, with John Singleton‘s Boyz n the Hood an obvious start, there is a lot here that separates it and like that film, pushes the envelope with some heady results.
Rice, in his feature debut, shows a lot of confidence, especially in a scene that visually connects the dots between urban warfare and actual military combat, making an uncompromising message about race and societal expectations, toying with self-fulling prophecy and the vicious circle of violence that seemingly binds a black man to a black life. We come to feel great pain for Cody as he is so clearly torn by the tragedies that befall him and the love of a woman whom he must avoid. It smacks of Romeo and Juliet of course and while that’s an old story, Rice layers it nicely among the larger themes at play, and finds ways to link them all. It’s strong stuff.
Being Black Enough or (How To Kill A Black Man) debuts at Dances With Film Saturday, June 9th.
Movie description: Being Black Enough or (How To Kill A Black Man) is a 2017 drama about a young black man raised in a white neighborhood who heads to the 'hood to learn what it means ... to be black.
Director(s): Devin Rice
Actor(s): Devin Rice, Danielle Jaffey, Jacqueline Monique Corcos