Review: Skinner Myers’ surreal ‘The Sleeping Negro’ is an angry wakeup call for all
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Suspended in midair inside a stylish L.A. apartment, a Black man dozes. The dreamlike image bookends “The Sleeping Negro,” writer-director and star Skinner Myers’ blazing, if anticlimactic, debut on race and needed revolution.
From the opening frame, Myers summons James Baldwin’s writing; later, Kenneth B. Clark’s book “The Negro Protest,” featuring interviews with Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., makes an appearance in ironic circumstances. “I have no true identity,” says Myers’ 35-year-old nameless lead, now awake in more ways than one, via voiceover that lands like a manifesto denouncing pervasive inequities and biases against Black Americans.
A victim made to feel complicit in the systems of oppression, Myers’ character is coerced into committing fraud by his boss, before his white fiancé (Julie McNiven) exhibits the worst of her biases. The multitasking filmmaker transmits an underscoring rage in the piercing intonation of the recited words during the handful of confrontations that comprise the ordeal.
Myers’ centerpiece, captured in a static frame, sees him in a heated discussion with an old friend who turns up as a Trump-supporting Black conservative fervently secure in the existence of a post-racial society. The filmmaker harnesses visual simplicity in the scene, urging us to heed their talk undividedly.
Thematically, and in its magical realist flourishes, this furious meditation shares the lineage of recent films such as “Sorry to Bother You” or “Blindspotting” minus the comedic vein in those examples. The tone here is steadfastly severe, at times to the detriment of the whole.
Shot on film stock, an unexpected quality that elevates the aesthetic in an elegantly unassuming manner, “The Sleeping Negro’s” nightmarish climax features the man facing the embodiment of his wrath, exorcizing his fury at having played within parameters that were never designed to include him (e.g. attending college for upward mobility and respectability).
Disconcerting in its justified bluntness, Myers’ brisk film is more monologue than movie, but undeniably essential in jolting everyone out of the collective complacency induced by the false perception of progress for all in this country.
‘The Sleeping Negro’
Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Glendale
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