The Forty-Year-Old Version

 

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Is forty a dangerous age for a playwright in New York?

 

Forty-Year-Old Version

   

Radha Blank is a 44-year-old theatre, television and film writer, producer and director. She has had success in all these fields, although admits to having written a dozen unperformed plays. In this, her cinema feature-debut as a writer-director, she plays a (partly fictionalised?) alternative version of herself. She uses some of the experiences she has had en route to where she is now. The Radha on film is approaching the age of forty, having been a promising talent since she was thirty. Ten years on nothing much has happened to her career. Theatre is run by ageing white men with money but no real convictions, and not by the likes of Radha, a black woman, an artist with integrity and a vital voice.
 
She gets by through teaching drama to high-school kids on how to write their own plays. But they are a fickle lot who don’t take the improv sessions too seriously. Radha then tries to get a sponsor for Harlem Ave, her play about the gentrification of the black district. She refuses to compromise her talent by not succumbing to the demands of wealthy white patron J. Whitman (Reed Birney). Instead he suggests, condescendingly, that she write a musical on the black abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
 
However, even her own friend and agent, Archie (Peter Y. Kim), is not above caving in to get sponsorship. In desperation, Radha turns to rapping in order to find some form of artistic expression, with the help of hip-hop beatmaster D (Oswin Benjamin). When Harlem Ave finally hits the stage, she complains that it is not hers anymore. It’s just a commercial compromise.
 
It appears that Radha Blank is to a certain extent satirising her own life and what she has had to face. Much of it is very pertinent but hilarious too. Art imitates life in, say, mocking references to an all-female version of Twelve Angry Men or an all-male Steel Magnolias! With Radha Blank playing a version of herself, the film, shot on 35mm film in glorious black-and-white with occasional bursts of colour, is documentary in flavour. It undoubtedly reflects Blank’s own life, so it will be interesting to see her next project. Having fulfilled her promise as a writer-director-actor of some stature, her only way is up.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney, Imani Lewis, Haskiri Velazquez, Antonio Ortiz, T.J. Atoms.

                                                                                                                

Dir Radha Blank, Pro Lena Waithe, Radha Blank, Jordan Fudge, Rishi Rajani, Inuka Bacote-Capiga and Jennifer Semler, Screenplay Radha Blank, Ph Eric Branco, Pro Des Valeria De Felice, Ed Robert Grigsby Wilson, Music Guy C. Routte, Costumes Sarah Williams.

 

Hillman Grad-Netflix.
123 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 9 October 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert 15
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