Black Ruby is a low budget independent film targeted at Latino audiences. The filmmakers claim this is the first feature to be shot on an iPhone 7. It should probably also be the last film shot on an iPhone 7.
The two leads are Jules (Joseph Mennella) and Louis (Zachary Laoutides), friends, part-time Jazz musicians, and full-time hustlers who fund their musical ambitions by placing bets on Louis’ brutal street fight competitions. One night in a diner they spy Ruby, a prostitute, and her pimp, who is verbally abusing her. This rubs Louis the wrong way and he beats the man to a pulp, then brings Ruby home with him.
She becomes a distraction and drives a wedge between the musical partners that threatens to take them all down.
Ruby has no agency, she goes with any man. Instead of conversation she prefers to communicate with sex. The character is less a human being than a “dirty damsel in distress” sex doll. She (naturally) ultimately proves to be a backstabbing femme fatale whose treachery drives the boys apart, cycling through the tired catalog of misogynistic tropes about women.
“…One night in a diner they spy Ruby, a prostitute, and her pimp, who is verbally abusing her…”
Entitling a film about a Black-Hispanic prostitute named Ruby (Krystal E. Heredia), Black Ruby is too on-the-nose, and if not straight up racist, then at least so crude that it’s hard to move beyond the title to consider the rest of the movie.
The image is grainy and the scenes are poorly lit. The low-tech camera is partly to blame, but lighting could have dramatically improved the quality of the image. There is little camera movement, making the whole film feel claustrophobic. During the fight scenes, the image often has a square frame superimposed for no discernible reason, and a blood spatter effect is used randomly, presumably for documentary style realism, but seen over the shoulder of a fighter a punch is thrown and blood spatters, even if neither opponent is bloody.
The sound is abysmal, with background noise and echo muffling the dialog. The only relief from it comes from music used during long static shots of characters emoting as the film repeatedly shows pensive moments to indicate emotional churn. This is a cheap expositional dodge, breaking the “show, don’t tell” rule of script writing and taking the viewer out of the film. Also, the track choices are a jarring mix of piano and old big band songs. None of it is bad, but it doesn’t fit. Viewers will be struggling for some reference to the big band era: there is none.
The film is being marketed toward Latino audiences; but those audiences deserve more respect. There is no single director named for the film, with the primary credit listed as “La Raza,” which in English is “The People,” so one must assume directing choices were made by committee. With the machismo posturing, violence against women, poor visual quality, and muddy sound, getting through this film is a slog. The material is vicious, regressive, and stays that way, neither enlightening nor entertaining.
Black Ruby (2019) Directed by La Raza , Zachary Laoutides, Mónica Esmeralda León. Written by Zachary Laoutides. Starring Zachary Laoutides, Ric Morgan, Krystal E. Heredia.
5 out of 10