HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Thursday, June 8, 2017


I've been pretty lucky with movies this week, seeing a few that I didn't expect much from at first and ending up getting bowled over by them. With BEING BLACK ENOUGH OR (HOW TO KILL A BLACK MAN) (2017) I thought I was in for the usual screed about white oppression.  What I didn't expect was that the most immediate oppression suffered by Cody, a young, middle-class black teen, comes from members of his own race. 

Cody, it seems, isn't "black" enough, at least by the standards of his more streetwise peers as well as people from other races who berate him, in a sort of "cultural appropriation" montage, for trying to mimic elements of their own lifestyles. 

In a particularly poignant flashback, we see little Cody asking his father, " do I learn to be a black man?  How did YOU learn how to be a black man?"

So, in order to shed himself of his "Oreo" image, Cody first turns to the internet and asks Google what it means to be black.  This calls up a lot of what I, and apparently writer-director Devin Rice as well, would consider negative examples, especially when a particular Tupac song lists things that a "real ni**a" is supposed to focus on.  This includes all the usual stuff you'd expect such as bitches, weed, guns, etc. ("because that's what ni**as do.")

What follows is Cody's clumsy attempt to rectify his perceived whiteness, venturing into the South Central hood and seeking out his older cousin Kyle (Bruce Lemon) to serve as mentor and role model.  After getting beaten up and almost shot by Kyle's friends before he steps in, Cody is brought under their collective wing and given lessons on "blackness" that would have his concerned mother (Gina Jackson) reeling in dismay.

Here, BEING BLACK ENOUGH lulls us into thinking that maybe it'll veer more into comedy territory rather than being a slow descent into tragedy.  Indeed, some of Cody's bumbling efforts are laugh-provoking, especially when he first handles firearms. 

A visit to a strip club in which Kyle's crew throw wads of cash around ("Where'd you guys get all that money?" "Commerce. You don't need to know") pokes the usual fun at Cody's virginal shyness.

There's also the subplot about Cody's budding, secret romance with Jennifer (Danielle Jaffey), a bubbly Hispanic girl whose brother is Cody's best friend.  While this gives the film some charming moments in the rom-com vein, it also serves as an ominous foreshadowing of a situation that could, and will, go really wrong. 

That's where Devin Rice the filmmaker (he wears several production caps as well as impressively playing the lead role) delivers his most powerful gut-punch moments--setting up situations and letting them play out in seriocomic fashion until our guard is down, then having everything plunge straight into tragedy at a moment's notice. 

All the while, Cody is like a misguided Alice in a dark wonderland he only thinks he understands and wants to be a part of, his gangsta fantasy becoming all too real when bullets fly and people die.  What Devin Rice succeeds in doing, in addition to putting together a gripping film with considerable style, is to make us care about these characters as we're swept up in their experiences with rapt attention and empathy. 

Not being black, I can only guess how realistic and true-to-life BEING BLACK ENOUGH OR (HOW TO KILL A BLACK MAN) is, but I do know that it makes for a compelling screen story.  Rice definitely has a message to put across here, one which means a lot to him, and he does so powerfully and in no uncertain terms. 

Dances With Films:

World Premiere Saturday, June 10, 2017
TCL Chinese 6
7:15 pm
6801 Hollywood Blvd



No comments: