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Movie Reviews

Emergency ★★★★



Director: Carey Williams

Cast: Donald Elise Watkins, RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols

Release: TBC

Emergency was developed from the short film of the same title by director Carey Williams as that film which successfully manages to generate both laugh out loud humour and explore the uncomfortable nature of racial divisions and white privilege. The film follows straight-A college student Kunle and his best friend Sean on a boys’ night out as they embark on a quest to be the first black students to complete the college’s legendary tour to join that hall of fame. The camaraderie between Kunle and Sean is a delight to watch, and fellow Latino roommate Carlos joins them to take centre stage in a frat boy comedy with added depth. However, their night takes a precarious turn when a drunk, white young woman is found in their colleague dormitory semi-conscious. Suddenly, the boys are made to confront racial pre-conceptions as they struggle to decide on the correct course of action to take.

Carey Williams film shows a perspective rarely seen within this frat boy genre as it explores the microaggressions and racial slurs to which Kunle and Sean are exposed once Emma enters the dynamics. Sean is streetwise and anticipates that calling the police may be problematic given that they are all of the different ethnic persuasions, and Emma is seemingly unconscious. Kunle’s concerns lie with his science project application for Princeton and, therefore, naively believes that the police may be sympathetic to their plight given Emma’s state of need.

Emergency is unafraid to explore this level of trauma that black people may have to challenge within their day to day lives. For instance, Sean and Kunle had previously been immersed in discussions of the political nature of racial slurs under the pretext of research within the context of their academic institution. This sudden discussion of taboo language forced them to confront their race and to expect such differential treatment from the police. For the actors themselves, filming such scenes within the classroom was uncomfortable as they were conscious of the reactions of their peers and the need to have an opinion on such matters and be deemed as the representative for their entire race. Such societal expectations convey the social commentary that Williams has interwoven skilfully through this satirical tale with a full immersion into the stressful situations encountered by Kunle and Sean.  

Donald Elise Watkins as Kunle and RJ Cyler as Sean provide mesmerising breakthrough performances conveying both the angst and the humour effortlessly within the film. Williams cleverly conveys that hesitation in knowing how to respond when encountering the use of a racial slur within institutions and whether someone can indeed be given a ‘pass’ as an accepted way to utter such words within the confines of academia, within art or due to such words being a reflection of historical texts.

Despite its superficially farcical nature, Emergency tackles some hard-hitting subjects and draws the audience into the characters’ dilemma. Their friendship dynamics are relatable as the characters try to develop pathways outside of societal expectations concerning race and naturally expect to receive equitable treatment in all spheres of their lives. However, similar to The Hate U Give, it demonstrates that performative allyship is still prevalent, with suspicious neighbours contacting police when seeing two black men and a Latino man on their doorstep whilst being ignorant of the irony in having a black lives matter sticker in their window.

The film keeps the stakes high for the boys as the night progresses and matters escalate to go from bad to worse. Far from tying everything up neatly and succumbing to clichés, Emergency is another film that will challenge audiences to confront their privileges and the impact of racial prejudices when emergencies arise.

Emergency succeeds in re-creating that nail inducing tension for the audiences living vicariously through the boys and demonstrates that combatting unconscious biases are an everyday reality for those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Despite the academic achievements and the camaraderie shared with classmates of differing backgrounds and classes, it emphasises those terrifying moments of solely being judged by your skin colour with dreadful consequences ensuing. It is a timely film but remains a bitter pill to swallow with an underlying sense of dread. There is, therefore, a lot to unpack within this story beyond its comedic appeal to Williams’ credit. It is an impressive, terror fuelled, provocative film that will hopefully create an awareness of the traumatic incidents that may impact black students. Emergency is that shocking, captivating film that audiences will talk about for a while to come and firmly places Williams on the radar as a director to watch.

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