The @Tokenbg Review: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

CONTENT NOTE: This review will contain spoilers

About a month ago, one of my follows on Twitter (@BlackGirlNerds) sent out the following tweet:

bgntweet

I enthusiastically affirmed this notion.

shanetweet

I mention this, because the tweets are relevant for placing An Oversimplification of Her Beauty(which I will refer to as Of Her Beauty”for this review) into context when looking at its place in the milieu of American cinema. There are some films where the topic of race is at its centre, such as 12 Years a Slaveor Crash, and others where race is not the key topic, but remains an inescapable part of the story’s tableau, such as Middle of Nowhereor Bhaji on the Beach.

Often, when films position black people at its centre, the plot concerns crime, violence, and death. Alternatively, it’s civil rights/slavery, violence, and death. …Of Her Beautygives us a more quotidian tale [1]. Terence Nance, who stars, writes and directs, plays himself. After returning home from a long day at work, his evening turns from acute anticipation to despondent deflation, as he awaits the arrival of a woman – played by Namik Minter – who opts to stay home instead (she is also tired after her respective work day).

And that’s about it for the plot. The film was birthed as a short film called, How Would You Feel?But the story evolved from a basic (but nicely told) hard-luck tale, into a solipsistic mediation on love, and Nance’s sense of self.

Linear storytelling is thrown out of the window, as we get interpolations showing the development of the relationship between Nance and Minter. The frisson is palpable, the air between them thick with ardent romantic potential. They appear to relish pushing each other to the lip of flirtation, before easing back from the precipice.

There are a number of films that Of Her Beautyfelt redolent of. As Nance ponders over his interactions with women, it reminds one of scenes in High Fidelity, while much like in Kill Bill, the name of our female lead is deliberately concealed.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty - Animation still

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Animation still

The meta work of Michel Gondry is evident during the film’s numerous stop-motion animated sequences. Nance’s inner thoughts are positioned alongside a variegated dreamscape, dense with allegory and symbolism. Arguably the film’s biggest triumph is its technical proficiency. Considering the micro-budget Nance had to work with, he’s performed the directorial equivalent of what Chris Rock claims black people have done with the “n-word”.

The wacky, fluid and cosmic animation, which seems inspired by everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Sun Ra and Barkley L. Hendricks, helps push the film into Afrofuturist territory (the term, coined by Mark Dery,, encompasses the work of multimedia artists interested in projecting black futures).’ BFI – Film of the Week Ashley Clark

Essentially, …Of Her Beautyis an 84 minute exercise in introspection. A treatise on the interstitial between who one wants to be, and who one actually is. The navel-gazing may be a turn-off for some, but in his review, Ashley Clark states the story displays, “an uncanny ability to tiptoe to the precipice of maudlin solipsism and pull back thrillingly at the last moment with a rapier-like act of self-effacement.

It’s also a sagacious move to have Reg. E Cathey[2] narrate much of the film. His sonorous voice is like an aural electric blanket[3], and helps to keep what is a pretty slight story from running out of gas.

I should state that roughly two-thirds of the way into the film, it did feel like it was spreading itself a little thin. Some of the animated sequences, while visually iridescent, added little to the story.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty  - FIlm still

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – FIlm still

Also, the key narrative point of the film the discovery that Nance screened his earlier version of the story – How Would You Feel?largely without Minter’s consent. The plot is furthered as we see the fallout from this. Minter laments that a personal part of her life was laid bare for all to see, including to her friends, family, and partner.

Nance seems to realise his error, and gives Minter more agency in determining the transformation of How Would You Feelinto An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. I was still slightly disappointed by the end result, as in acknowledging his (unwitting) exploitation of Minter, I don’t feel he passed the figurative mic enough to let her tell herside of the story. It would have given the film greater ballast, but maybe Nance’s intention was to leave things a bit messy and uneven. One could argue that it’s a more accurate depiction of how life and love goes.

Regardless of these minor problems, …Of Her Beauty is an impressive calling card for Nance. The way he constantly plays with the vocabulary of his medium shows a bristling talent, which deserves a greater platform in future. The final film that I was put in mind of, was Christopher Scott Cherot’s underrated, Hav Plenty, another quirky tale with black people at its centre.

To come back to the tweet that began this review, …Of Her Beauty has significance beyond the actual story. While films that overtly talk about racial inequities are important, it can be equally imperative to tell stories depicting black people just being… people. It may not seem revolutionary, but think how many films with non-white casts have the latitude to be eccentric and quixotic – while also finding an audience? Black cinema can be be a multifarious space, if allowed. Case in point, creatively speaking, Terence Nance appears to have a lot more in common with Wes Anderson than Antoine Fuqua.

The film is available to watch on Itunes Buy – An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

[1] – But under no circumstances refer to it as a race-themed” film.

[2] – Norman Wilson in The Wire.

[3] – I think Cathey’s the guy you want for narration duties when Morgan Freeman is unavailable.

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A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting HistoryHe is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting networkSimply SyndicatedA lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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