Kyle Laursen’s Josiah definitely hits America where it currently lives. This 20 minute short film is a study in the way we try – and fail – to communicate across our varying backgrounds and shared history.
The venue is an LA agency. Brendan, played by Luke Forbes (Crown Heights), fades in to start us off. His headphones on, he’s an actor running his lines, and the brief glimpse importantly reveals how consumed Brendan gets in a role.
A little small talk with the unimposing personal assistant sets us at ease, but the outset takes an awkward turn. Tina, played by Melanie Chandra (Code Black), questions Brendan’s use of headphones and then goes full on cliché. “I thought you were going to reenact a rap video,” she misfires.
Chandra’s portrayal also reveals the superficial nature of the business, and how the lack of depth can drive conflict. Nonetheless, Brendan lets the moment slide. You can’t help wonder whether Josiah will be another preachy digression on race that doesn’t break any new ground – but Josiah doesn’t let us down.
Revealing the setting of Brendan’s read of the title character gets us on our way. Josiah was once a slave of Wilford who freed and employed him when the Civil War broke out. The good and dangerous deed still leaves the relationship tenuous, but Josiah’s character must temper his anger with a modicum of respect.
In turn, Brendan’s reel strikes a perfect balance for writer/director Jack – played by longtime character actor Kevin Dunn (VEEP). His professional delivery reveals a character who is passionate about the craft.
Either way, the barbarity of the time dictates that we’re probably going to hear the matching vernacular. “If you act like a N…, they’ll treat you like one,” reads Mather Zickel (Better Things) who plays Ted the producer.
Definitely startling, the expected conversation over dialogue ensues, and it comes from three perspectives. The first angle comes from Ted, who oozes white, liberal guilt. He’s certainly looking out for the production. However, he’s more about making sure no one is ever made to feel uncomfortable.
So he tap dances around the problem. “It was unclear whether certain vocabulary would be safe for the actual production,” lectures Ted
Thus, Zickel checks off all the boxes with his office cohort in his portrayal of another superficial member of the Hollywood community. Furthermore, Ted’s contrived oversensitivity doesn’t really do anything to resolve the issues at hand
Jack then takes over. He rationally and effectively explains the need to portray reality. Unfortunately, the writer does not take into account Brendan’s feelings as a black man. So the condescending arrogance Dunn exudes drives home the point.
In response, Forbes amazing second read emotionally channels Brendan’s pain and cannot be ignored. The viewer is forced to recognize the price that Brendan is paying to bring Jack’s historical reality to life. Whether on the screen or in the audience – Brendan is obviously not alone.
The differing points of view are reinforced as the camera circles the room and zooms in on the characters that represent them. The circular motion and the single take implies that the conversation will continue going around in a circle without end.
“Divided we fall,” the real core of the problem is highlighted. We just don’t know each other well enough to delve into the issues that separate us, and Josiah provides that insight in a very impactful way.