Milwaukee Film Festival has new program just for young adults
By Grace Peplinski, Current Staff
There are not many things teenagers enjoy more than sitting down in front of the television and watching a movie.
Those who run the Milwaukee Film Festival surely know that, so this year, to mark the festival’s 10th anniversary, they have decided to add a brand new category. This category, called Teen Screen, focuses on movies for young adults around the world. I watched two of the four films featured in this category, one called “High Fantasy” and the other “My Name is Myeisha.”
When I read that “High Fantasy” was filmed with an iPhone, my immediate thought was, “How good can this really be?” I could not see how a movie filmed with just a simple smartphone could have any kind of impact. When I finished watching it, I realized that some movies do not have to have a million-dollar budget and the most sophisticated technology to get the lesson across.
The movie takes place somewhere in the beautiful countryside of present-day South Africa. Four people, all coming from various backgrounds, are taking a road trip to a farm owned by the family of Lexi, the only white person in the group. This fact is important later on because she is criticized for having “stolen” land from the black people who lived in this region at one time. Though it is her family farm, she is not allowed to come unless she brings a man with her… even if that man is black, hence the reason she brings Thami, the only male in the group. Lexi has two other friends as well, neither of them white. Xoli is very outspoken and not afraid to say what she thinks, especially about white people of whom she is not very fond. Tatiana is the voice of reason in the group, always trying to get people to work out their problems peacefully.
As I attempted to analyze this basic information about the movie, I could immediately see it was going to be a lot more insightful than I expected. In fact, the simplistic recreation of reality was a great way to examine the causes and effects of discrimination that still exists not only in South Africa, but the rest of the world today.
Now, any movie can have some conflict and get their lesson across. What makes this movie interesting and sets it apart is the unique approach to displaying the conflict. Instead of the people of different races having normal encounters with each other, the filmmaker takes it one step further and has the characters switch bodies. They are put into the bodies of people of another race or gender, and for some, this arouses intense anger. This is especially apparent with Xoli, who is placed into Lexi’s body. This is very difficult because she does not want to be white—she feels it is shameful to be from a background of people that has treated blacks so terribly. It was in turn mentally impactful on Lexi because she, too, feels ashamed to be who she is simply because of her skin color.
I thought this fact was very important. Not only did the film show the discrimination black people have felt, but it also showed the discrimination a white person could possibly face in a predominantly black community. Though it might not coincide with popular opinion, I believe showing this reverse discrimination is just as important.
“High Fantasy” may appear as a stark contrast to the next film, but when you dig deeper past the surface level, the two are very similar. “My Name is Myeisha” tells the story of a 19-year-old black girl. Myeisha, her cousin Roni and her friend Kai live in Rubidoux, California, also known as the “Inland Empire.” On December 28, 1998, they are on their way to Los Angeles for a party when their car gets a flat tire. They pull into a gas station and wait for a family member to bring them a new tire. Myeisha locks herself in her car while waiting for help, and she passes out from a suspected drug overdose with the car running and music blaring, so her cousin and friend are unable to wake her. They call the police, who break the car window after discovering a gun in Myeisha’s lap. When the window is broken, Myeisha wakes up and reaches to grab the gun to defend herself against what she thinks are intruders. A black police officer believes she shot at him, so he opens fire and shoots off 23 bullets, 12 of which hit Myeisha, fatally wounding her.
The rest of the movie shows a series of flashbacks into Myeisha’s life prior to her final moments. Each flashback represents one of her 12 gunshot wounds.
Another thing that makes this film unique is that it is presented as a musical. Along with Myeisha, who narrates her life using sing-songy poetry and dancing, there is a black man who represents the coroner who is examining her body and describing the wounds. His speech combines formal medical terminology with beatboxing.
Since the film intentionally hides a major fact related to the shooting until the very end, viewers are challenged reconsider the events. This completely changes the perspective on the “accidental” killing of Myeisha. This is also where viewers might start taking sides on the issues presented in this story.
When I dug a little deeper after watching this movie, I discovered that it was based on true events. On December 28, 1998, a 19-year-old black girl named Tyisha Miller was killed by police with the same circumstances presented in “My Name is Myeisha.” There was a huge amount of backlash from her death, including riots, protests and lawsuits.
This backlash has continued even today, with the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This movement has focused on the racism black people still face today. There have been countless deaths of young black people by white police officers that are the focus of this continuing protest. As the country becomes more polarized, controversial topics such as Black Lives Matter can cause a significant divide. The introduction of the internet has amplified this divide, as people with similar opinions can reach each other with ease. The media also plays a role, as different sources have different biases, and therefore portray events in different ways.
Movies have the capability to influence us with emotion. “High Fantasy” and “My Name is Myeisha” are two films that were for the most part successful in doing so. They sought to make people aware of the discrimination all minorities may still face in not just our country, but the world. By spreading awareness, the hope is that people may start to change their thoughts. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “When you change your thoughts, you change your world.”
Though both films are aimed toward a teen audience, I think all viewers could benefit from watching them. It is most important, though, that teens see these movies, because they are the future leaders of our country and world. They will be the ones who have the power to change the world for the better.
“My Name is Myeisha” screens again Saturday (8 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre) and Sunday (4 p.m. at the Jann Serr Studio Cinema). More information is online at mkefilm.org.
(Images courtesy of Milwaukee Film.)