Monday, April 3, 2017


Between Moonlight, I Am Not Your Negro, Get Out & Atlanta, there is a lane/audience for White Face – the latest short film by director Mtume Gant about racial identity (which is an understatement to say the least). I don’t mean to be that guy to compare one “Black movie” to another “Black movie” but all the aforementioned films deal with racial identity on some level so it only makes sense to mention White Face in the same breath. The only difference is that White Face is much more transgressive and (intentionally) uncomfortable. So in a sense, you could say White Face created its own lane outside of the aforementioned movies & TV shows.
While many young/new/up & coming filmmakers model a lot of what they do after the obvious sources like Spike Lee & Ava Duvernay (which is fine I guess), White Face is a more progressive (dare I say dangerous?) film that draws more (possible subconscious) inspiration from the likes of Charles Lane, Wendall B Harris & Melvin Van Peebles.
The story of a Black character in white face is going to get an immediate comparison to True Identity (Charles Lane) and/or Watermelon Man (Van Peebles), but White Face is specific to 2000-now. Back in the 1960’s when Watermelon Man was made you were hard-pressed to find a Black American who would vote for an openly bigoted racist presidential candidate (like the main character in White face). But today we really do have Black people (and other people of color) openly supporting an openly bigoted racist president like Donald Trump (he’s also sexist and just an all around terrible human being but we’re just focusing on race right now).

If you think certain elements of White Face are too far-fetched - like a Trump supporting Black person - look no further than someone like Steve Harvey...

The problem with all this is that there is an office in this country called the ‘president,’ and you have to respect the office. You really do. Whether you want to or not. You have to respect the office. They got laws... -Steve Harvey

The basic plot of White Face – the story of a trump supporting Black man ("Charles") who walks around in actual White Face - reminded me of the lyrics in the second verse of the Ras Kass song; “The Evil That Men Do”

In eighty-one I remember the night
I covered myself with baby powder, so my black ass could be light
Cause God is white, and Bo Derek is a ten
I hate my black skin, it's just a sin to be a nigga - Rass Kas

This song was released in 1996 and there haven’t been many (or any?) verses before or after to address issues like this in such an unapologetic way. There are plenty of Hip-Hop lyrics calling out other Black folks who have the illusion of inclusion but very few to take on the first person perspective of questioning their own identity as a Black person. This is similar to White Face. Throughout the film we see Charles study white people (most notably his next door neighbor that he spies on through a peep hole) in an effort to perfect his self-adopted white identity.
With all the recent success of predominantly Black films right now, there are very few non-sympathetic Black characters. Even Denzel Washington’s portrayal as Troy in Fences has some sympathetic moments. Right off the bat White Face gives us a hateable/dislikeable main (BLACK) character to counter Chris (Get Out) and all the Chirons (Moonlight) of the present cinematic universe. Contrary to what a lot of modern-day cinema would have us believe, some black characters can be antagonists, villains & “bad guys” (it should be noted that the main character in White Face is certainly dislikeable but, given his mental state, some viewers who are more forgiving than me might feel sorry and maybe a little sympathetic for him).

This is a racially & politically charged film but it’s also very much about the moving image itself (a lot of films that set out to deliver a “message” sometimes fall short in the visual department but that isn’t the case here). When you put aside the very heavy plot and just look at some of the standalone images you’ll see that Gant has a unique eye and an appreciation for visually stimulating imagery…

While I cringe at words like "better", White Face is definitely a maturation & progression from Gant's previous short film S.P.I.T., which is always a good thing (I imagine filmmakers want to grow with each project).

Neon lighting (in conjunction with Scott Thorough’s Hal Hartley-esque score) also plays a huge part in the film’s comically unsettling ambiance…

To say that you enjoy stuff like Get Out or Atlanta but find issues with White Face would be a little strange to me. It’s almost like loving the music of A Tribe Called Quest but hating De La Soul. Sure you’re free to like and dislike anything you want but at the same time, examples like the ones I just gave kind of make me a little perplexed. Do you like Quentin Tarantino but dislike the work of Takeshi Kitano, Martin Scorsese, Jean Luc Godard & Jim Jarmusch (just some of the many filmmakers that helped birth Tarantino’s style)? No. The same should apply to White Face. The exploration of the complexities concerning racial identity shouldn’t stop at stuff like Get Out & Moonlight. No one should be satisfied. There needs to polar opposites to all the popular films concerning race right now and White Face is very much that. It isn’t safe and everyone wont like it but I’m almost certain that is one of the goals behind this project. Race isn’t easy & simple so why should films on the same subject be?


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