LIAM EASLEY, TRUMPET ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT DIRECTOR
Radha Blank played herself in her debut film, “The 40-Year-Old Version,” which was released to Netflix on Oct. 9.
Usually, titles that come to mind when Black cinema is mentioned are “12 Years a Slave” or “Selma.” Films like this portray Black history in a new light, highlighting the struggle for equality that is still ongoing today. And that’s exactly what these films have in common: struggle.
“The 40-Year-Old Version” portrayed struggle, but in a different way. A large portion of the film was centered around Blank and her desire to make a name for herself before she turned 40, and this ambition became dimmer and dimmer with each passing day. As a result, she strove to take a different creative direction – to become a hip-hop artist.
An embedded theme was the mentality in show business that a Black story needed struggle if it was to be accepted into a wider audience, which was rightfully labeled in the film by Blank as “poverty porn.”
Blank proposed her new screenplay idea of a Black couple that inherited a grocery store in Harlem, and upon her proposal to a respected producer in the theater community, he told her that it wasn’t interesting enough and offered the idea of including gentrification in the play.
While gentrification was a large problem, the play was never meant to show struggle. It merely intended to be a normal story. However, a storyline like that was nearly always reserved for a white cast.
Of course, this is not the first film to highlight such an idea. In fact, in the past few years, a film movement in African countries called Afro bubble gum art (started by Wanuri Kahiu and her 2018 film “Rafiki”) has attempted to shift African film from a foreground of despair to one that portrays hope.
“The 40-Year-Old Version” was a compelling narrative on the current state of show business both in terms of theater and film. It presented an issue that’s not often discussed: the fact that Black film can have a plotline without including social struggle. It’s an attempt to remove the label “Black film” from a movie just because it features Black characters as lead roles.
Outside of a socio-political narrative, the film excelled with its cinematography (done by Eric Branco) that was reminiscent of French cinematographer Raoul Cotard’s work with Jean-Luc Godard on films like “Breathless” or “Vivre Sa Vie.” This style gave the film an amateur yet creative look.
With a relevant message and a creative delivery, Blank has painted herself as a filmmaker to keep an eye on. This was an artistically-driven and ambitious production, making it worthwhile for any viewer.