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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 1 Angry Black Man focuses on Mike (Keith Stone), a college student whose unjust arrest sparks a righteous anger that he brings with him to a classroom discussion in his African American literature course. Writer-director Menelek Lumumba clearly loves literature: The characters engage in a deep, thoughtful discussion about the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates, August Wilson, and James Baldwin. They also talk about their own backgrounds and experience, which brings with it most of the movie's mature content. Characters refer to violent events (Mike's 9-year-old brother died in his arms after a violent incident; another character's mother attacked him violently while drunk, leaving him scarred) and to their sexual and romantic lives (several characters talk about their own queerness and that of the authors they're studying). Mike's arrest has to do with a sexual assault; a classmate ultimately admits to making a false report, saying she was drunk, high, and embarrassed (viewers don't hear all the details of the incident). Two characters smoke during a class break, and a man teases a woman by saying she smells "like lesbian sex." The movie's cast is diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic status, and age; all are treated respectfully. Mike's professor, Carla (Daphne Danielle), is thoughtful and encouraging. She urges Mike to get therapy for his ongoing response to his traumatic past, and to give him strength for the battle to come as he graduates. In one curious moment, she seems to blame Mike for his own arrest, telling him he'd stay out of trouble if he stayed away from White women (his false accuser is White). Language is infrequent, but you can expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," "son of a bitch," "hell," "a--hole," "d--k," and "p---y," as well as racist and sexual slurs (the "N" word, "maricon").
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What's the story?
As 1 ANGRY BLACK MAN opens, viewers meet Mike Anderson (Keith Stone), a graduating senior at an idyllic Maine liberal arts college who's been arrested for a crime he didn't commit. After his release, he joins his classmates and his professor, Carla (Daphne Danielle), for an African American literature class. There, during a discussion on writers like James Baldwin, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston, Mike and his fellow students engage in a passionate, hour-plus-long conversation that touches on pain points both modern and venerable: how trauma lingers in your life, the politics of oppression, and how the humanity and honesty in the literature they're reading relates to their own joy and pain.
Is it any good?
Lovely and dramatic, this small, quiet film illuminates both the life experiences of a small group of New England college students and the Black writers whose work allows them to connect. After a lifetime of traumatic experiences (Mike refers obliquely to his 9-year-old brother "dying in his arms" and the deaths of many other family members) followed by a stint at a plush university where he's felt marginalized and othered, Mike is understandably on edge after his arrest -- particularly since he's about to graduate into an uncertain future. In the literature class discussion where this movie spends most of its time, revolving around the table where students and teacher sit and talk, Mike simmers with justifiable fury.
But then all of the students are bringing their backgrounds and biases into the classroom with them. Kyle (William W. Wallace), whom Carla calls the "token Republican" of the class, uses points from Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God to needle his classmates about free speech and liberal hypocrisy. Ellen (Elizabeth Saunders) admits that her primary reaction to reading Black literature is to worry about her biracial son and how harsh the world can be to "little brown boys." The film sags a bit when the students devolve into theoretical discussions about feminism, conservatism, and being triggered. But it soars each time we return to the literary works the students are discussing and we learn how what they've read makes an impact on their real lives. Eddie (Ramon Nuñez) apologizes for "getting heavy" by relating a terrible incident that involved his mom and a knife, but there's "just so much honesty in the material, I'm learning not to carry all that stuff around." As a beautiful example of how art can help people feel their feelings and find each other, 1 Angry Black Man is unique and powerful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about race in America and the issues that 1 Angry Black Man raises. What is the state of race relations in this country? Do you think things are generally changing positively or negatively? Why?
How would you describe the movie's take on identity and community? How is this movie different from other films that explore these issues? Does this movie contain any stereotypes?
How would this film be different if it were written from the point of view of Kyle? Rachel? Ellen? Carla? How do films use a main character to illuminate an experience that (hopefully) viewers can relate to?
- On DVD or streaming: June 5, 2020
- Cast: Keith Stone, Daphne Danielle
- Director: Menelek Lumumba
- Studio: Freestyle Digital Media
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including some sexual references
- Last updated: June 14, 2020
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