SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Mitch Kalisa’s short film, Play It Safe, is about drama student Jonathan (Jonathan Ajayi). He is the lone black student in a middle-class English drama program. Already feeling out of place, Jonathan’s fellow students attempt to “bridge the gap” by offering him a role in their play as the ghetto hoodlum.
As class begins, the instructor starts putting her students through a series of typical “drama school” acting exercises. In this current exercise, the students blindly select an animal from a hat and embody that animal, utilizing as much performance space as possible. The student next to him picks a squirrel. Of course, Jonathan randomly makes the worst selection possible. When given a chance to change his selection, Jonathan takes a moment to confront prejudice head-on.
“…Jonathan’s fellow students attempt to ‘bridge the gap’ by offering him a role in their play as the ghetto hoodlum.”
There are two moments that writer/director Kalisa captures powerfully and brilliantly. The first is Jonathan’s inner-rage that builds as he sits in his seat as the other students watch his classmate be a squirrel. The second is the uncomfortable terror of his classmates as Jonathan masterfully goes through with the exercise. You will feel feelings, and they’re not warm, happy ones. It’s all evoked solely by the actors’ honest facial reactions.
Story-wise, Play It Safe will challenge whatever side of the arts, education, and systemic racism the world is struggling its way through. Discussion is always a good thing. It’s needed so desperately. Now, more than ever.
Play It Safe screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…will challenge whatever side of the arts, education, and systemic racism the world is struggling its way through."