The Shorts That Saved My Sundance
There is bliss in being seen for who you are
This review is part of my 2024 Sundance Film Festival Coverage!
I’ve said it before and I will say it a million times over, short films are hella looked over at film festivals and usually they are the star. One of the top films at this year’s festival, River Gallo’s Ponyboi, started as a short, and I’m hoping two shorts that premiered at Sundance this year get the same treatment.
Set in 2009 we meet British-Nigerian girl Bisola (Ige), who is growing up in the mostly white Essex. You’re probably familiar with Essex girls if you’re either a fan of Love Island (SEASON 5 FOREVER, OVIE, MAURA, MOLLY-MAE AND TOMMY FURY) or immersed yourself in British reality TV.
In a sea of white bronzed faces, big hair, and overdrawn lips that somehow look ashy and glossy at the same time, is Bisola, a dark-skinned Black girl. Her best friends are white and she’s realizing more and more that they don’t get her. They try to push her with white boys who don’t like her, she straightens her hair to death, and plasters her wall with white beauty ideals all in the name of fitting in. She’s craving to be seen in a real way, and her prayers are suddenly answered when she meets Ashlee (Corinna Brown) the only other Black girl in her class.
They meet under kinda rough circumstances but begin to forge a friendship that comes with true understanding. Their connection grows stronger, giving comfort and validation in a world where Bisola didn’t think that was going to exist for her. During a party that she’s invited to by Ashlee, Bisola starts to shake off the conformity vibes that kinda defined her interactions with her white friends.
She has a moment of vulnerability—tinged with a bit of embarrassment—while she embraces what could be her authentic self. Most importantly, Ashlee encourages her and doesn’t judge—creating an actual safe space for her to continue to explore and grow without fear. I’m still seeking friendships that aren’t one-way streets, and those with people who have similar lived experiences so I can feel not as crazy as the world can make me seem. To find this at a young age is beautiful, and to keep it as you age is fucking divine (so I hope and feel!)
In 15 minutes, Ige shows us in a very non-corny way, that adversity in your life can lead to authenticity. If you can hold on for just a bit longer, you’ll find the folks who truly deserve you as you are.
There is bliss in being seen.
I was growing up in a Baptist Christian household while I was trying to figure out who I was—I wasn’t ready to be seen while I was on that journey though.
My parents landed on Baptist Christianity (and the 12 steps) as they recovered from their addictions. My mother grew up with a father who had made his way to Detroit, packed his religion up, and bought it up north with him. Her unwell mother went through various religious backgrounds (Jehovah’s Witness and Islam) before settling on Christianity for her 8 kids. My father grew up mostly without religion as he moved through dozens of foster homes.
This reflection on my religious upbringing gets us to the Black Southern Gothic Grace by Natalie Jasmine Harris, director/writer of another film I love, Pure.
In the 1950s south, Grace (Jordan Rayanna Wells) begins to question her faith and sexuality before she gets baptized—she is specifically thinking about her feelings for her best friend Louise (Alexis Cofield). I was baptized twice. Once as a rite of passage and again when I was a teenager and thought it was simply the right thing to do.
Grace learns she has to repent before her baptism, to make sure it “really works” and starts down the path of questioning her religion, her family, and her feelings for Louise. Similar to Bisola in Essex Girls, Grace is now having a conflict of conformity or authenticity. There have been many a queer story where in a Black religious family, the fear of rejection, or something even scarier—condemnation—can be the deciding factors that make you lean towards hiding who you are for now.
Bisola's journey in Essex Girls and Grace's questioning in Grace really resonated with me. I'm navigating faith, friendship, identity, and acceptance way after the age of adolescence. But even through the mess, the disappointments, the failed connections, and the wondering—I still have hope. Hope that if I keep staying true to myself as best I can, the payoff will be hella great.
Thanks bunches for reading! If you aren’t already, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your shares, dollars, and dope vibes allow me to continue making my dream a reality <3