DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO
“Space Is the Place, But You’re Stuck on the Ground.”
An ambitious low-budget satirical oddity by talented multi-hyphenate Kevin Willmott, DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO imagines WEB Dubois and George Washington Carver’s attempts to solve the United States’ “Negro Problem” by way of building a rocket ship to Mars, only to accidentally send the crew via time-warp to the contemporary U.S., where they are befuddled by saggy jeans and President Obama. DPN mixes social satire (“The only solution for the colored people is to leave the planet”) with entertaining 1950’s style sci-fi (They describe the doctor who designs the rocket ship as “the leading– and only– colored physicist in the world”), and is an admirable curiosity.
Shot apparently on a shoestring, but by capable filmmakers and performers, the film has its dry spells and perhaps could have been tightened by 15 minutes or so, but like Spike Lee’s CHIRAQ (co-written by Willmott), Warren Beatty’s BULWORTH, and John Cusack’s WAR INC., it is laudable in its efforts to satire a world increasingly beyond satire. Satire is what closes on Saturday night, as they say, but as Chekhov once wrote, “When asked, ‘Why do you always wear black?’, he said, ‘I am mourning for my life.’” Willmott’s subject matter is no laughing matter, but in the wake of the Charlie Hebro attacks and in the center of the Donald Trump squall, DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO reminds us of Chris Rock’s quote: “Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon.” Irreverence is likely the only way to get certain morally complex and uncomfortable subjects on the grown-up’s table, particularly when too many folks are receding into the apparently comforting volcanic lava Trump churns out on a daily basis, in some twisted effort to recapture a United States that was never as wonderful as they remember from watching BRADY BUNCH as a kid while eating from a TV tray.
“They Don’t Lynch Us As Much As They Used To!”
“They don’t lynch us nearly as much as they used to!” is the kind of line that is both amusing and disquieting, which undoubtedly is Willmott’s intended effect, but it’s a hard tone to sustain for an hour and forty minutes, especially as the film was finished in 2013 and since then violence towards blacks, whether police shootings or in the South Carolina church slaughter where nine died, is snowballing in media prominence. The film is a bit talky and didactic in its early sequences, but the use of moody 1950’s sci-fi music and affable forced perspective miniatures provides both old school Sci-Fi fans and those directly interested in the film’s sociological issues a reason to stick around. Ending up in the modern United States, the film has some fish-out-of-water comedy, but mostly addresses troubling developments such as racist “Patriot Parties” and Black Conservative Politicians who try to downplay the bloody past of United States history.
Relative unknowns Tosin Morohunfola, Danielle Cooper, Walter Coppage, George Forbes and Willmottt himself play with conviction, with DANCING WITH WOLVES’ Wes Studi showing up briefly towards the end, but this is really an auteur’s work: Willmott (also a professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas), has made some interesting films and clearly believes in using the medium for social commentary. The two films of his I had seen (and can recommend) prior to DPN are CSA: THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA (envisioning what would have happened if the South won the Civil War), and NINTH STREET, starring Martin Sheen and Ruby Dee. DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO is an agreeable, unique change-up, offering some intelligent satire, a few laughs, and a perspective not easily found via mainstream media. Candy Factory Films released the film to VOD & Digital HD on June 10th.
The film’s official website can be found HERE!