Tuesday, October 11, 2022

‘Code Switch,’ A Poignant Short Film Gazing on the Black Femme


Code Switch film poster. 

Code Switch, likely the shortest short film ever reviewed at a length of five minutes, does not make it any less significant than a full-length feature running past three hours. From beginning to end, the experimental portrait presents a singular Black body situated in safe, nonthreatening spaces— spaces that hold historical significant symbolisms/ties to Black culture. 

Code switch by definition linguistically means “altering two or more languages.” In workplace environments or locations lacking a true inclusivity, Blackness (mainly Ebonics, attitude, style, etc.) must often be smoothed over, toned down to appease the masses. Yet, in this particular short film, this term is used to illustrate an aspect of a person’s appearance and identity, finding the balance in the authenticity of their gender. 

Pick out at the barbershop. DP: Hany Osman, Yojin Yohe, and Joe Cozza. 

Inside of a busy barbershop, a non-binary figure receives a fresh trim to their illustrious low cut Afro aka a tapered TWA (teenie weenie afro). Others come and go with their evenly toned and hydrated flesh, widened smiles— a beautiful, engaging people. The camera pans on these individuals who pay the protagonist no mind. Each engaged in conversation after conversation against the cool background R&B track that plays as crisp as a vinyl record. This particular experience in the barber’s chair is a familiarity expanding towards he, she, and they. These grooming tools have no gender roles, no gender expectations despite what society claims to be true, to be normal. The protagonist belongs there among the strangers receiving their own washes and haircuts, a place that doesn’t ask who you are or where you’ve been, just usually “how would you like to be styled today?”  

The split duality of finding allegiance to both dominantly male barbershop culture and the beauty that Black women possess. DP: Hany Osman, Yojin Yohe, and Joe Cozza. 

Later, the protagonist— in a powder blue durag and matching shirt— gazes upon pictures in their white walled bedroom. Scattered magazine images of iconic women celebrities celebrate unambiguous Black beauty from Aretha Franklin to Maya Angelou, Missy Elliott, Kerry Washington, and Lauryn Hill, a period of the 1960’s-2000’s, something alarmingly outdated as the culture of now shifts towards lighter complexions and looser hair textures. Yet among these voguish faces are outspoken queer individuals such as Da Brat and Janelle Monae— probably the most current. This scene certainly presents another dynamic altogether, that of dualism: two separate entities existing in one body. The natural, organic being who appreciates the media representation of the glamorous makeover while simultaneously embracing their true identity, bravely stating that “yes, these are beautiful historical figures holding high standards, but this honestly will never be where I stand.” 

The ending grants the first spoken words that are not song lyrics— kind, gentle vocals from the unseen mother on the phone entailing a much needed acceptance into the ears of the silent figure whose warm, pleasing face and shorn hair has captivated us throughout this timeless piece.  

Nothing more idyllic than the capturing of smoke escaping nostrils and lips. DP: Hany Osman, Yojin Yohe, and Joe Cozza.

Although we still live in troubling, violent times where people refuse to understand and acknowledge that there are more than two genders, Code Switch opens up a fresh dialogue. A film told through a caring, thoughtful lens offers a gratifying story in three hundred, twenty-two seconds. It shows the beauty of a deserving existence. 

Writer/directors Mx. Roti and Davis Alexander James’s must see Code Switch, a winner of the Frameline Completion Grant, has shown at various film festivals across the country including the 46th Annual Frameline in San Francisco, the 40th Annual Outfest in Los Angeles, the 5th Annual Black Femme Supremacy Festival in Baltimore, and the 24th Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston. It will then show at the 17th Annual LGBT in Dayton, the 9th Alphabet Festival in Chicago, and the 22nd Annual Indianapolis LGBT Festival in Indianapolis. 

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