Overall: Cody, a young college student, struggles to develop his identity as a black man. Devin Rice Studios; 2017; 91 Minutes.
Two Souls: Being Black Enough Or (How to Kill a Black Man) opens with the movie’s director, producer, star, cinematographer, and editor Devin Rice delivering a reading of W. E. B. Du Bois that is interrupted by gun shots, flashing police lights, and a string of instructions, rude interrogations, pejoratives, and epithets thrown at the camera, which immediately stands in for the black experience.
The film presents a title that coerced me to go in blind; only the boldest artist approaching his boldest exercise would introduce his work with such a title. And the opening of Being Black Enough, something of a charged mix between cinematic slam and found poetry, lives up to the billing. The energy of that sequence, which moves rather seamlessly into a second performed soliloquy, as Cody (the character played by Rice) stands in the bedroom of a noticeably middle class home reciting the words of Tupac Shakur, only to be interrupted by his curious mother in a bathrobe. Really, this early exchange sits as the perfect summation of the good and bad paradoxes, oxy-morons, dichotomies, and embattled ambitions of Rice’s film.
Two Thoughts: The press kit for Being Black Enough has a full page of credits with Devin Rice and Jacqueline Corcos’ names listed in the majority of the categories. The young artists go for a lot here, right from the outset. Apply the duty of those overlapping hats to a film that seeks to establish, at once, an urban drama, a teenage romance, and a slice-of-life indie by use of both experimental and narrative form, all in service to questions of black identity more complex than anything I’ll ever understand as the privileged default identity in Western culture (white, male heterosexual), and you get the sense that the filmmaker and his team are taking off into a full sprint on an insurmountable incline while spinning multiple plates on their fingers.
Two Unreconciled Strivings: If I’ve made it feel like a doomed expedition, I’ve undersold the commitment. There are times when all of these elements–the drama, romance, comedy, and personalized social commentary–all work well individually, even if they stumble over themselves too frequently for the film to find a rhythm. And if if the movie’s central social concern is occasionally buried by its shifting to allow strapped Shakespearian theatrics or 1980s style youth melodrama, then that disrepair just speaks to unsolvable problem presented by the brash title– How is it possible for Rice to be a filmmaker and a black filmmaker, to make marketable films and films that are fair to his obligations as a black artist and citizen in a country that seeks to both control, segregate, subdue, and oppress his identity?
Overall: Being Black Enough showcases hints of Do the Right Thing‘s righteousness, Clerks‘ culture pocket candor, and the more recent take-the-mic-and-run energy of Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope. It all works to the film’s credit and detriment, as a lot bleeds through the occasionally irreparable seams. It’s still quite astonishing that all of this was even attempted on a crowdfunded budget of less than $25,000 dollars. And if Rice’s filmmaking voice stumbles to move too quickly and say too much, Being Black Enough or (How to Kill a Black Man) at least proves that it’s important for him to keep saying it.
Featured Image: Devin Rice Studios
Being Black Enough or (How to Kill a Black Man) will premiere Saturday, 6/10/17 at Dances with Films.