Director Shaka King is making waves for Judas and the Black Messiah, so we review three short films from his library.
Brooklyn native Shaka King looks to have arrived on the Hollywood scene in a big way with his latest film, Judas and the Black Messiah. I wanted to get to know more about his style before tackling my review of that film, so I went through his filmography to see what else he has directed. Luckily, King made it very easy to view his body of work – three of his short films were ready and waiting on Vimeo. Let’s dive in.
Herkimer DuFrayne 7th Grade Guidance Counselor (2010)
The worst day in the worst life of the worst guidance counselor in America.
The first of the shorts was the hardest to watch. As I quickly discovered, King likes to flip expectations, either revealing societal flaws, spotlighting absurdity, or challenging assumptions. Where his other two shorts provide a relief valve to the discomfort – either through humor or beauty – here we just get raw discomfort.
In this short, the protagonist is constantly tripped up by assumptions as much as the audience. A new counselor shows up to work only to find his office is a ramshackle cubby, and his first case is a teen girl who was caught giving blowjobs at school. We meet first her father then her mother, and each introduction is increasingly uncomfortable. It all comes to a head when the mother demands to see the security footage…and it’s not even their child.
I think Herkimer DuFrayne 7th Grade Guidance Counselor showed King’s style and insight, but lacked refinement. Seeing Dufrayne constantly step in shit, trapped in a bad situation only partially of his own making, feels a bit like misery porn instead of social critique.
Flatbush Brooklyn 3-30-14 (2014)
A documentary interview with two aspiring ballet dancers from Brooklyn, twin brothers Shaakir and Naazir Muhammad.
First off, I want to say that Shaka King composes a beautiful short film here. The cinematography and music, overlaid with dialogue from the two brothers, is mesmerizing. The shots are crisp and vibrant, capturing both their elegant movements and the look of the city, which feels like the third character in the room.
I can see why King focused on this story, as everything about Naazir and Shaakir challenges societal stereotypes. King dares you to jump to conclusions: the first shots are of graffiti littered buildings and the brothers in Adidas gear sitting on the stoop of a run down house. Then they begin to dance. There’s no dialogue for a full minute, letting their movements stand alone. I didn’t realize it was a documentary until they start talking; I thought King was making a point about racist/sexist assumptions…and actually, he was.
An attempt to raise awareness of the little-known but widespread condition of racial glaucoma.
This spoof medical infomercial makes its point more explicitly than King’s other two short films. It’s both humorous and devastating. LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah, Selma) presents an experimental procedure that “removes the layer of white supremacy” from people’s vision.
The short starts off with obvious and less aggressive instances of racism (a Hollywood producer looking to cast a white star in an Asian role, a Karen calling the cops because her mailman is non-white) and then bares its teeth: we get the real footage of a police officer body slamming a teenage girl, with an interview with an actor playing the cop, explaining that before his surgery, he didn’t even see she was a child, all he saw was a threatening black body. We then get a poignant interview with a black woman (the amazing Da’Vine Joy Randolph), about her own internalized beliefs that prevented her from seeing herself as worthwhile.
The short uses comedy like a razor blade. Each punchline cuts to the bone, leveraging “you laugh so you don’t cry” body blows.