SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Black Bodies (2020) is a short written and directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall (Marathon (2020), Haven (2018)) and is being featured in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s “Shorts Program 3,” a lineup of eight comedic, dramatic, and documentary-style shorts. Among the other very personal short stories included in this block, Black Bodies is a short that stood out to me for a number of reasons.
Black Bodies is chilling, not in a scary horror kind of way, though the content confronted in this short movie does certainly come from a fearful and horrifying place, that is, the experience of being Black in America. With dark lighting that shines light only where it is needed and sound mixing that brought to life images when the movie’s style employed only minimal production design in order to focus on its words–think something like the production style of the movie Manderlay (2005)–each of these aspects culminated in this distant, chilling feeling.
The artistic choices used to portray this message were so matter of factly that it created a cold atmosphere for the movie, though the narrator’s words were heated with passion. Scattered bodies across an open floor representative of both the image of persons such as George Floyd, dead on arrival by police officers speeding into the final moments of their life, but the scattered bodies also represented the African diaspora–those persons of African descent who have been dispersed onto various other continents during the global slave trade. Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s writing gives a history lesson, recalling plights of injustice and subjugation experienced hundreds of years ago and still today.
Not only does this short invoke powerful imagery, but also powerful performances from its two actors Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast and Komi Olaf. With Prendergast standing in as a representative of all of the mothers such as Sybrina Fulton and Valerie Castile who have lost their children to such gun, police, or racially-motivated acts of violence–her expressions, her movements, her tone all convey their pain. The slam-poetry type method of telling this story was driven by Komi Olaf’s deep and fevered delivery of his monologue, which crescendoed into a strong and heart-wrenching moment that seemed ripped from the headlines and viral videos.
Wholly relevant and retrospective in a period of time with increased statistical atrocities being committed against minority groups of people including BIPOC–black, Indigenous, and people of color–the short movie Black Bodies bravely, astutely, and responsibly addresses this issue and offers learning moments in its words and resonating imagery in its visuals.
7 out of 10