Justin Simien successfully translated Higher Learning into a language today’s black students on white campuses can understand, and he did so in a way that allowed me to walk out of the theater asking for no one’s head on a platter. Higher Learning is almost 20 years old, and I still feel the need to quarantine myself immediately after watching out of fear of having a rooftop cafeteria moment with everyone I feel is calling me the N-Word in their head. The students now are different and revolution is happening in a much different way, and Justin understands that.
To that I say, “way to freaking go, Justin Simien, and all involved.”
Because my mother’s favorite movie is Imitation of Life, I’ve known about the tragic mulatto for quote some time, but never have I seen one find peace before the end credits. Sure, in my head Peola Johnson went on to live her life as a black woman, in peace. But that only happened in my head. “I’m in the middle of something,” Sam told her mother on the phone. As a sometimes filmmaker, it was such an amazing moment. The elusive triple entendre Jay-Z spoke of. Here she was, in the middle of planning a protest, in the middle of a rock (Reggie) and a hard place (Gabe), and in the middle of figuring out exactly who Sam was.
Todd Tucker, Mona Scott-Young, Tyler Perry, and anyone who dares throw a D.A.R.E. tshirt on a functioning crackhead should grab tickets and see what we who are outside the frame are looking at. The loud yell that came from me during the Madea discussion and George asked, “Where’s she going this time? Dialysis?” was needed.
I would be shocked and disappointed if I someday find out Justin isn’t a fan of Nikki Giovanni. The love scene between Sam and Gabe has “Seduction” duct taped to it. It was perfect. Pure poetry.
Topher Osborn (Cinematographer), you are the man! Not once was I not in love with everything I was seeing. Be sure to share part of that compliment with Toye Adedipe (Costume Designer)
As a sometimes critic on culture and sometimes higher education guy, I was pleased to see real people on the screen. Unfortunately it’ll bypass the thoughts of so many people, but Simien touched on something I speak about often: black students who culturally identify as white due to their upbringing, environment, and now likes and dislikes and who’re associated with them.
Though I share almost identical experiences with Sam, including the screening of my film, The Field Nigger and the Buchenwald Jew, in Professor Dvir’s cinematography class at Howard University, while protesting on my undergraduate campus alone, and my constantly being in the middle of something, I didn’t feel much of a connection with her, and I’m not sure why. I still rooted for her in all that she did, but if she died, I wouldn’t have been sad. However, I’d show up at Colandrea’s funeral with the biggest wreath. For me, she was the most well-developed character, and her ending was perfect. To grow up feeling as though she didn’t belong due to rejection because she’s a middle class girl living in the hood (Obama Style in South Side Chicago), carry that to college, and finally see things differently and work toward reform, but to be rejected again. Life!
I wanted more for Reggie, also. Why was he so into Sam? Who is he without her? I also wanted Sam’s struggle to reach a decision between the rock and the hard place to be deeper, and maybe a little bloody. I needed more from her. I do understand though that time allotment doesn’t always let us develop characters the way we’d like.
I feel I could have lived without Lionel Higgins, though he was a good temporary distraction between the scenes I loved, but I do get the purpose of his character in the grand scheme.
GO CURLS (Ashley Blaine Featherson)! You were Awesome!
Better film (and definitely better Black film) is being created and produced and Justin Simien and his amazing creative team are taking off! This won’t be the last we hear from him, I’m sure. We’re ready!