The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) heads back to Atlanta, Georgia, in a program that kicked off last night, August 7 at the Plaza Theater, with the Opening Night and Atlanta premiere of director Deon Taylor’s “Supremacy." Below is our review of the film, which tells a story about a recently-paroled white supremacist who, after killing a police officer, takes an African American family hostage.
Director Deon Taylor’s dramatic
thriller "Supremacy," centers on any black family’s worst nightmare: being held
hostage by an Aryan Brotherhood member just released from a 14-year prison
Based on a true story, the film follows Tully
(Joe Anderson), as he is just released from prison, and is picked up by
an Aryan Brotherhood groupie, Doreen (Dawn Oliveri). Later, a
police officer stops their car and Tully murders him. Escaping the scene, they
break into a black family’s old farmhouse, headed by Mr. Walker (Danny
Glover) and his young wife Odessa, played by a rough and tumble Lela
Rochon. As Tully and Doreen plot their escape and wreak havoc on the
family, a shrewd Mr. Walker attempts to negotiate with Tully.
What’s most interesting about the film is the
way family dynamics and conflict come to head as danger ensues. A young boy in
the house ponders if Doreen and Tully will kill his family as they make
sandwiches in the eerie kitchen, while Odessa warns her young daughter Cassie
that she shouldn’t have had two children in the first place. The film also reveals
an interesting paternal tension between Mr. Walker and his son, a police
officer played by Derek Luke.
It is refreshing to see Lela Rochon in a starkly different role
than we’ve seen her in past films, where her beauty and sex appeal tended to
take precedent. Here, she is stripped down, without makeup with a tattoo on her
neck and messy wig, just trying to save her family, and get out of the house.
In one of the most moving scenes, she talks openly and honestly to Tully,
unafraid of the violence he’s committed. It’s scary and comforting as her
humanity strikes something in him.
Shot on 16mm film, Taylor utilizes his horror film background to
render a sense of dread and danger in the grainy darkness and shadows of the
aged interior house location, which often feels haunted. However, the complex
visual design doesn’t always match the tone of the film, especially in scenes
where Tully and Doreen’s overt racism is supposed to intimidate or feel
dangerous. Many racially-offensive lines are actually quite funny and forced,
especially a line from Doreen telling Odessa that her name should be something
like “Shaniqua,” or Tully calling Cassie’s baby a “niglet,” but perhaps that’s
the point; to pinpoint how insane racism is to the point of humor.
However, in a film about such grave subject matter, we expect
Tully’s character to evoke something more in us- fear, loathing, anger- but
that never really happened for me. In a super-charged performance, he elicits
empathy and curiosity, but not much else. I wanted to feel more for him, but I
knew only of his actions in this house and that did little to reveal character
as much as it showcased the Aryan views he subscribed to.
In the end, "Supremacy" rests on a premise that makes for high
drama and surprise, though it’s not always executed. It’s the stuff of
nightmarish fiction but the nonfiction source material adds a level of depth to
its commentary on racism and race relations in America today. You never know
who could be coming through your front door, and how to negotiate with the
hatred they may bring.
For info on PAFF/ATL, which runs through August 10, 2014, with a lineup of over 40 new films from around the world, as well as workshops and panels, click here.
Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area.