Not Black Enough feels like essential viewing on the topic of 21st-century racism.
Not Black Enough (2020) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on October 6, 2022
Rating 5 /5
Not Black Enough is a short film that touches upon a different kind of racism facing the African-American community. It’s an internal one that threatens to distort perceptions of identity and culture, where there’s a deeper questioning of what it means to be black. When this type of discrimination becomes internal to that race, that signals the moment when the external forces can take advantage and only make things worse.
Before getting to the central topic, the film presents an easy form of racism. The audience is treated to a blackface minstrel show. It’s grotesque and racist but presented in a blunt manner. It’s as if director Jermaine Manigault is trying to tell the audience, “yes, this is easy-to-spot racism, so let’s get that out the way.” It’s surreal and uncomfortable, meant to make one feel regret for the past when these types of acts were acceptable.
Now, with your mind firmly able to spot that racism, the film gets more modern and trickier. We’re presented with the story of a young black teenager who hangs out with his friends. After leaving the apartment complex, he catches up with his best buds to talk about anime. They have great chemistry and love talking about Japanese animation. The group is then approached by a much different gang of black youth. They are the intimidating African-Americans who not only favor the lifestyle of gangsters but look down on any black man who doesn’t share this alignment. This leads to an argument, where the young black teen who loves anime speaks up about how arbitrary it is to argue that someone isn’t black enough just because of their interests.
And then comes the extra dose of darkness when the cops show up. The cops do not see an argument for race perceptions among African-American youth. They only see conflict, a potential moment of crime that needs to be stopped. There is not misunderstanding of law enforcement here and no apologetics at play for any brutality that may follow. It is racial profiling of authority piled on top of a powder keg of questioning race. There is no room for nuance about who is the real force of oppression here, reinforced by the film’s black-and-white palette.
To make the point even more apparent, the film ends with blackface again as a bookend, presented even more surreal and off-putting than before. Does it sink in yet? Does racism have to be bookended by blunter examples to make this modern racism seem more apparent? It might have to be considering how many people treat such an incident more with excuses than contemplation for how it came about in the first place. If we don’t have that perspective, we may be doomed to see this scenario play out again and again.
Not Black Enough feels like essential viewing on the topic of 21st-century racism. It taps deep into disgust for a situation that is hard to articulate but comes across with boldness in this masterful movie. It’s easy to condemn blackface as racism. Let’s hope it becomes easier over time to take note of this fairly new racism and condemn it before it leads to more tragic ends.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.