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STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
• Audition tapes
• “Reciprocity” live on-stage
“It’s a clever ruse to trick porn-hounds into watching something edifying!”
Lots and lots of humans, divided between the half-dozen self-contained stories. Here are the ones that could fit on the marquee: Kathryn J. Taylor, Valley Jones, Chonte’ Harris, Marcus Harris, Mylika Davis, Jerome Hawkins, Alphonso Johnson, Emily Liu, Allen Maldonado.
Also, of special note, the music was by Henry “Luke Cage” Willis.
A Good Day to be Black and Sassy
Writer/director Dennis Dortch presents an anthology of short stories thematically linked by expressions of black sexuality. These brief, poignant stories employ sex to great effect, which I think is illegal everywhere but Nevada.
During the promotion of Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell gave a terrific answer to an interviewer asking about the prevalence of sexual expression in the film. I’m going to heavily paraphrase Mitchell’s response so that it’s something along the lines of: Film history has a rich tradition of visual metaphors for sex, but not nearly so many examples of sex as metaphor for something else. With Shortbus, Mitchell used ideas and expressions of sexuality to — I thought — powerful effect.
Dennis Dortch’s A Good Day to be Black and Sexy plays in the same open, honest terrain, where sex isn’t a grail or a target, but a capsule summation of a character. Each of the six or so shorts (of varying length) involve radically different characters, with different approaches to sex, but each succeeds because of how deftly, quickly, and deeply Dortch can portray a character just by examining the role of sex in their lives and their approach to it.
A Good Day to be Green and Scaly
A variety of emotions get the sex-sketch treatment, here: jealousy, loneliness, reluctance, stubbornness… It could almost play like a single student’s portfolio, showing off range. Dortch’s strength in these vignettes is in his understanding of how to structure a short film. All of these segments have resonant cores, around which are built solid beginnings, middles, and ends. I think Dortch hit a sort of magic, here, realizing how well sex works as a shorthand during the creation of a character, and how perfectly that aligns itself with the format of the short film.
Sex seems (generally) a conflict, right from the get-go. People are set at their basest motivations, vulnerable, but they rarely want the same outcome. Please don’t tell my wife. The stories Dortch tells here usually involve female protagonists, whose desired outcomes aren’t entirely achieved. In a couple of the stories, women wield sexual access as a power over the men in their lives. In the others, sex brokers a different, more subtle kind of power. In all the stories, one sort of power struggle or another is evident. These make for brief, punchy stories, immediately sympathetic, and — even better — Dortch manages not to retread any argumentative ground even though he summons these power plays over and over again.
Don’t you just wish.
As the movie progresses, the stories get less and less overtly sexual in nature, culminating in my favorite of the shorts “American Boyfriend.” In “Boyfriend,” a black boyfriend kills an entire evening in his Chinese girlfriend’s room, waiting for her parents to go to sleep so he can sneak out. His girlfriend doesn’t think her parents would like her dating a black man. A plainly well-endowed black man, if the condoms the father finds are any indication. The interplay between boyfriend and girlfriend, marked with no explicit sexual interaction, is simple but touching. The threat of sex hangs there the whole time. She likes to bang this guy, but is afraid to tell her parents. I know I’m recounting what sounds like a junior high romance, but give Dortch a chance. The playfully sexual charge, and the light weaving of power, that hangs over the whole night had me engaged and grinning the whole time.
I’m painting with the broad strokes a lot, here — not like that’s unusual for me — but I’d really like to spend at least a bit of time highlighting the smaller touches that make this collection outstanding. “American Boyfriend,” in its entirety, was a high point for me, but the humor of the short is worth pointing out further, from the aesthetic to the constant interjections from the younger sister of the girlfriend, who loudly and frequently claims her lesbian orientation just to get attention. The acting across the board is convincing and beautifully captured, in little moments that would take too long to recount. I had to keep rewinding bits because I took too long transcribing my favorite lines.
A Good Day to be Black and Also a Baby
Maybe my favorite moment of the whole thing comes during the morning of an affair. The husband has been ignoring his wife’s calls, instead eating breakfast with his mistress. The give and take between these two throughout showcases some lovely writing, the mistress taunting, yet plainly desiring more from her lover, the man confused, confident, and well beyond the point of no return. When breakfast begins to wind down, the man answers his phone to talk to his wife. His mistress, tired of dealing with his bullshit, asks, just loud enough to be overheard by the wife on the other end of the line: “You want some eggs, baby?”
Cold, perfect, and delivered in such a way that it makes the situation more complex, instead of crystallizing it. I loved it.
All right, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for well-acted character pieces. I’m also biased toward anything that can show human emotion honestly. That’s what you can expect from A Good Day to be Black and Sexy: An honest, funny, humiliating set of short films, beautifully written and acted. Not a dud in sight.
A Bad Day
The audition tapes are fun to watch. Dortch and his casting director set themselves a decent challenge, filling so many sexually explicit and demanding roles. The progress chronicled in this little bonus serves to underline how well it all paid off for them.
There’s also a behind-the-scenes segment, a little too brief and not holding any revelations. More interestingly, one of the shorts — “Reciprocity” — is captured from an on-stage performance. If nothing else, this shows you that Dortch has talent behind the lens if you compare it to what shows up in the film.