“Make America Great?”
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A Film Review
“Make America Great?” a film written and directed by Candice Vernon, was screened at the Cayton Center at Santa Monica College on February 23.
The film takes place in both the future, 2021, and during the 2016 presidential election. In the future, a group of seven, including a child, try to flee the United States due to racism and attitudes. The setting is in a church used as a safe house or hide out for the seven.
Vernon had only screened the 13-minute satirical film in two other cities before its SMC debut. She chose to screen it at SMC after being invited by Chase Matthews, the president of SMC's Black Collegians.
“I am very passionate about African-Americans and Latinos in America and I just felt like our campus, so diverse with many students from Adelante, Black Collegians, and all the other minorities, would relate to this,” said Matthews. “My father is one of the main characters in the film, so I went to the screening premiere in Culver City. I was so moved by the message and the timing. It was released right before the inauguration,” he said.
The film is based on Vernon’s views about the racial climate during the presidential election, and where she sees the country going in the future. It is focused on racial issues, labeling, and stereotypes about African-American culture that it envisions will reach all new highs by 2021. “I wanted to throw it all out there and not hold anything back about how people see me and my friends, and what I felt was the racial climate at the time," said Vernon.
The film makes clear its point of view, rather than leaving its message open to interpretation. It shows us some of the results of President Trump's time in office and uses harsh language such as "the N word" almost constantly.
In one scene a light- skinned African-American woman is shunned by an African-American man who claims she isn't Black. The film presses the question of what it means to be Black, Hispanic, and even -- American.
The director's opinion is clear. “We are all American," said Vernon. " For me born in Jamaica, and a lot of immigrants, once you come to this country you are American. You put roots here, you work here, you pay taxes, and you raise your family here. Why are you any less American than someone born here,” said Vernon.
Actor Stephen Barrington plays David, one of the characters trying to flee. Barrington was passionate when discussing the film’s subject matter at both a Q and A session, and an interview. “The ones who hold the power to really change things they don't, they aren't even attempting to,” said Barrington. “You know why? Because they aren't affected by it, they don't see it. The majority of the wealth is owned by the 3 percent," he said. His solution to the problem is art. “With film and art, we are able to show what people don't want to see," said Barrington. "Nobody likes the truth, but they’ll watch it. Film, its an avenue to create what you want, and then be able to walk away from it and hope it changes lives,” said the actor.
"Make America Great?" examines subjects not typically explored in film, and does it in a satirical way. Matthews said, “It pushes the boundary but it's very practical. I think that's what's so scary about the story line."
The message of "Make America Great?" connected deeply with an SMC student who just happened to see its promotional flyer and was hooked right away. Lacresha Bundy, an African-American mother of three, speaking with compassion and energy said, “Whether or not you're black or white or Latino you're going to find something in here that speaks to you. At the end of the day we’re all people.”