Monday, October 26, 2020

NewFest Spotlight: The Obituary of Tunde Johnson

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from the 32nd Annual New York LGBTQ+ Film Festival, NewFest. The festival runs October 16th-27th, 2020, and films are available to watch anywhere in the United States during that time.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
Directed by Ali LeRoi
Ticket Information

It is a sad fact that many unarmed and completely innocent Black people in America are killed for absolutely no reason by police. This has been a reality for a long time, and has been increasingly talked about since the murder of George Floyd this past May. Cinematic realizations of this pattern of injustice include the 2013 film “Fruitvale Station” and the recent PBS documentary “Driving While Black.” Tackling this subject from a different angle sheds new light on the systemic roots of the problem and the inability of eventual victims to do anything to avoid their fate.

Tunde Johnson (Steven Silver) is introduced as being born in Nigeria in 2002 and dying on a specific night in Los Angeles in 2020. At the urging of his best friend Marley (Nicola Peltz), Tunde comes out to his parents, Yomi (Tembi Locke) and Ade (Sammi Rotibi), which goes well, and he is excited to share the news with his secret boyfriend, Soren (Spencer Neville). When he is pulled over on his way to meet Soren, Tunde reaches for his phone and is shot multiple times by one of the officers. He awakens again that morning and relives the day, doing things slightly differently and experiencing the same horrific end regardless of where he ends up.

Time loops are frequently used in film, and one of the most recent examples is “Palm Springs,” which put it to tremendous comedic effect. The better comparison for this film is a season one episode of the new iteration of “The Twilight Zone” in which a Black woman is able to save her son from being killed over and over by a cop by rewinding a video tape. Aside from his birth-death introduction, Tunde never acknowledges to the camera or any characters that he is reliving the same day. Instead, he tries new approaches based on the apparently remembered consequences of his actions, which include navigating the fact that Marley is dating Soren and doesn’t know that he is gay.

Despite this film’s peculiar unwillingness to engage with the unexplained nature of its setup, it works on many levels, including as a tribute to many untold stories and an affirmation of Tunde’s desire to exist. It may well trigger past traumas for many viewers, something that it doesn’t seem to address either. Silver, who recently starred on “Council of Dads,” gives an affecting and genuine lead performance, and both Peltz and Neville offer solid support in the form of loyal friends in a complicated love triangle. Any film featuring a time loop is bound to be divisive in how it resolves or does not resolve it, and this film manages to do the best it can in underlining the strength and power of its story.


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