'1 Angry Black Man' Review: A brilliant discourse on black literature juxtaposed with systemic racial oppression
'1 Angry Black Man' directed by Menelek Lumumba and starring Keith Stone juxtaposes arguments about class, gender and race divide among literature students through Mike's experience of wrongful arrest
The protests that are taking place in the country at the moment with thousands standing up against police brutality in the case of George Floyd's death have taken over the headlines. Mainstream media is currently busy highlighting the violent protests, while a section of the community is trying to bring people's attention to protests that were peaceful. There are cops taking the knee to show their support, while there are others who are busy tweeting with hashtags #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter to drown the movement #BlackLivesMatter. What does this have to do with the film '1 Angry Black Man'? Everything.
Through a discussion about black authors' literature, the film brings to life all the loudest arguments that people today are taking part in, in regards to the protest. Questions about white liberals' intentions, arguments about if anyone can understand what black people at this moment are going through in the US and representation of the class and gender divide within the community - all of it is woven into the discussion and it is eye-opening to watch as students from different cultural and political backgrounds opine about literature.
The film opens with Mike AndersonKeith Stone (Keith Stone) in custody. He first has to go through questioning by a white cop, whose face we don't see. This itself is a visual metaphor for all the faceless white cops who have no understanding of the trauma they are inflicting upon black lives everywhere. He is not violent, he isn't aggressive, but just the line of questioning and the prejudice towards the man in front of him explains why Mike is frustrated. Then, we have a black officer take over. He explains to Mike that he is Mike's only friend here, trying to get Mike to confide in him on the basis that the other cops are not going to believe Mike. The underlying meaning is clear. "As a fellow black man, only I am going to be able to help you," is the sentiment that he is trying to put forth.
A few minutes later, Mike meets his public defendant who tells him "You are free to leave". This shocks Mike more than anything because just a few hours ago he was detained for something that he didn't do. Actually, he was not even aware of what went wrong or why he was accused. When he tries to ascertain the details of the case, we realize that all Mike did was walk a (white) girl home. He asks the PD, was the girl raped to which the lawyer has no answer. The PD also doesn't seem equipped to deal with his client's shock because he leaves right after informing Mike that there is no case against him. The realization that everything that Mike had worked for in the past years, his education and his plans could all go up in the smoke any moment, without any fault on his part shakes Mike up.
This experience is traumatic, this can affect Mike in ways that would ruin his future and yet, none of the cops except one maybe seem to realize the repercussions of their action and that is the result of systemic oppression. Can you or me, who is not black understand Mike's feelings? No. However, this doesn't mean that his experience is being overplayed.
We then see Mike attend his classes as usual and one of his literature papers is about black authors and discourse here is what sets the tone of the beautiful eye-opening conversation about the black experience in terms of class, gender, race, and beyond. The class discusses authors such as James Baldwin versus Ta-Nehisi Coates and observes the differences between the two author's work leading to a discussion about the strong spiritual faith among black people. The former's work inherently is optimistic and draws on spirituality while the latter is more pessimistic. Similarly, the introduction of Zora Neale Hurston's work sets off a discussion on feminism, mainly how Zora received backlash for her work from her peers, black people and white people for expressing her thoughts freely as a black woman.
This brings forth an important argument between the students. One of the white female students Rachel (Danicah Waldo) explains how she was triggered by Janie's character in 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' because of the character's experience with violence. This pushes a male student Jimmy (Mike Taylor), whose politics aligns with the Republicans, to point out that a word she used is grossly misused by people today. 'trigger'. She explains that one of her friends had experienced abuse at the hands of her family and Janie's experience triggered her, however, she is questioned how something she has personally never experienced could trigger her. Mike explains that as a black man just walking on the streets should trigger him if they go by this student's claims and this sets off another important discussion on how work of literature connects with different people.
Carla (Daphne Daniel), the professor in charge, plays the role of a moderator who pauses an argument when it is going nowhere and pushes for more when she knows that her students are close to getting the crux of any given title. The discussion about August Wilson's 'The Piano Lesson' impresses the fact that Mike's experience with the cops has influenced his opinions about the works of different authors. His anger when Rachel's friend Maggie (Amanda Jane Stern) tries to equate the prejudice that black people face with Rachel being persecuted for being a woman pushes forth all the anger that Mike has kept buried for this long.
His behavior is what pushes Carla to have a one-on-one chat with him during the break where Mike reveals how hopeless everything seems considering all his work, his hopes and dreams can be erased in a moment. The helplessness that he feels at having no control, especially after losing his brother is gnawing at him and his words "What's the point?" drives hard the fact that his life is not going to be free of persecution even if he graduates and enters the world as an educated man as long as he is black. Carla tells him "You never let the worst part of your life define who you are" and that is what black people are doing everywhere. They pick themselves up, try to believe in something bigger than themselves so that they can continue to hope for a better tomorrow because giving in would mean losing.
Director/writer Menelek Lumumba’s low-budget indie film '1 Angry Black Man' was made in 2018, but its release in the current scenario is very apt as it touches upon the very sentiments that America is grappling with post the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd and shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery.
'1 Angry Black Man' is releasing June 5 on VOD.