Friday, 26 February 2021

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson (Movie Review)

Films often spend a good bit of time trying to find a home after making their debuts at the various film festivals. This was certainly the case with The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, an American drama about a black gay boy named Tunde struggling to escape a fate that seems all but destined for him. Originally making its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, it finally receives a simultaneous release in select theaters and video-on-demand platforms this weekend.

In The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, Steven Silver plays Tunde, a young black boy of Nigerian descent, who struggles with anxiety and depression, amongst other things. You see, Tunde is not only gay, but he is also caught in a love triangle between his childhood friend and her closeted boyfriend, Soren. On the night that he comes out as gay to his parents, both of whom appear to be supportive of the news, he is pulled over by police while driving to attend Soren's birthday party in celebration. 

It is immediately clear that Tunde is a victim of racial profiling, and despite doing everything he can to comply with the police officers, the incident would end with Tunde being killed. Except for Tunde, it wasn't the end at all, as he finds himself having to relieve that same day over and over again, with the same tragic outcome. But with each iteration of the day, he gradually develops the understanding and acceptance he needs to face his demons.

I have seen my fair share of movies with infinite time loops, but this is the first one I am seeing where the concept is used so effectively to explore the issues that plague a young black man in America. From racial profiling to police brutality, these are issues we hear about on the news, with far-reaching ramifications that often signal just how far we still have to go to become all-inclusive. And that it used them to further its narrative, and did that so well, is something that definitely needs to be applauded.

But at the center of the whole thing was of course Steven Silver, who owned the role of Tunde. He had also played Marcus in the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, and while he was never quite one of the standouts on that show, he gets to shine brightly here. His range of emotions spoke of a boy that was struggling to find his place in a society where he clearly felt ostracized, with the time loop device allowing for more and more layers of his character to be peeled back as the movie progressed, taking viewers on as much a journey of self-discovery as that of its main character.

It's a shame then that the same praise cannot be given to the rest of the cast. As a Nigerian myself, it was a bit disappointing to see that the actors who played Tunde's parents didn't speak with anything remotely resembling a proper Nigerian accent. This is especially aggravating considering the large number of Nigerian actors out there in Hollywood, any of which would have given a more convincing performance. I mean, I even made a whole video about a number of them just last year. 

The film also often veered into the realm of teen melodrama, where it tended to lose focus of the larger issues it tries to tackle in favor of played-out high school tropes. But it thankfully never completely loses sight of those larger issues, and aside from these perceived problems, I have to say that The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is a real eye opener overall.


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