With his directorial debut “Black Box,” Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. effectively inserts himself among the fresh voices in film that are actively broadening the spectrum of contemporary black cinema. The psychological thriller was among a collection of horror flicks presented by the Blumehouse Productions banner that landed on Amazon Prime throughout the month – just in time for the Halloween season. “Black Box” premiered on October 6.
“Who Am I?” is the question that Nolan Wright is faced with over the course of the film. Not in a rhetorical sense, but an actual one.
In “Black Box,” Wright is forced move through a traumatic experience without the basic fundamentals that instill the fortitude that one leans upon for resilience while in the midst of unspeakable tragedy. Though his body has healed, he tries to pick up the pieces while navigating through his new normal with mental and emotional barriers. At the same time, he is attempting to unveil a basic level of consciousness that most of us take for granted. Desperate for any sense of normalcy, he agrees to endure experiential treatment at the hands of a pioneering neurologist. In the process he becomes a mad scientist’s unwitting guinea pig.
The film isn’t as unpredictable or terrifying as one would hope for from a sci-fi horror flick. But what it lacks in fear factor “Black Box” makes up for in the lingering slow burn of questions it poses to the audience as they imagine life from Nolan’s vantage point. “How would you function if the life you worked to build was suddenly stripped away – from the inside out?” “How reliable is your support system?” “What is the next right step when you can’t look back?”
“Black Box” also deserves props for its dismantling of Black male stereotypes – both with respect to fatherhood and the level of commitment in which Black men show up to support each other in times of need on all fronts. The film also reminds viewers that toxic behavior and actions aren’t specific to a certain socio-economic status.
The film stars relative newcomer Mamoudou Athie as Nolan Wright. He is the latest among the fresh faces that come to the big and small screen courtesy of the Yale School of Drama. Among them include recent Emmy Award winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Lovecraft Country” star Jonathan Majors and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.
Phylicia Rashad, who portrays neurologist Dr. Lillian Brooks, is the lone veteran in the small ensemble of fresh faces that rise to film what the film requires of them. As daughter Ava Wright, Amanda Christine teeters between tenderness and frustration with agility as she adapts to her new normal of an elementary school student suddenly thrust in the role of head of household because of her father’s impediments. Tosin Morohunfola provides support for Nolan in every way imaginable as Dr. Gary Yeboah. He proves faithful to his friendship as an ally in Nolan’s family, his emotional well-being and his health. The chemistry is authentic as the multifaceted bond between he and Nolan is presented – which is not atypical for Black men, but a rarity to be displayed in full on screen with such richness and depth.
True to form, Rashad is delightful as Dr. Brooks. As she descents into immoral medical practices for her own secret agenda, there is tinge of sadness that she wasn’t afforded the opportunity to be a full-fledged film star – both before and after her career defining role on “The Cosby Show” as Claire Huxtable.”
“Black Box” can be viewed on Amazon Prime. The film has a running time of 100 minutes.