Film review by the People’s Minister of Information JR
The 15-minute political satirical comedy, “The United States of Paranoia,” by writer and director Rashan Castro is one of the crown jewels of the San Francisco Black Film Festival this year. Halfway through and thousands of police shootings and racial attacks into the Trump presidency, this film could not have picked a more relevant time to debut.
“The United States of Paranoia” juxtaposes the heat and air conditioners at the main characters’ home and at work malfunctioning on an extremely hot day, the hottest on record, to the political climate and history of abuse that Black people have suffered at the hands of white Amerikkka.
The story starts off with a man calling the air conditioner repair man and being put on hold for almost the whole film. When the film comes on, it has that Norman Lear-esque ‘70s feel like “Sanford and Son” and “Good Times,” including the Malcolm X photo on the wall, with jazz playing to symbolize the Black family that is in the struggle together, such as in the days of early Black TV.
When the grandfather is introduced in the film, he is first seen literally as butt naked and politically jaded, which symbolizes the politics of a stand up Black man from the Jim Crow era-Civil Rights Movement generation who has been pushed to the brink of insanity by white Amerikkka’s history of prejudicial and genocidal bullshit. And they were made to defend it by being forced to fight in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
When the impressionable son to the main character is introduced, he immediately asks about the air conditioner getting fixed and follows up with a number of political questions that the main character, the father, struggles to answer. One scene in particular sums up the whole film:
Father: White people marched with Black people too. They both marched for the same cause.
Son: Granddad said that they were just planted there by the FBI.
Father: They’re not planted by the FBI. Try not to listen to everything your granddad says.
Son: Why does he say those things?
Father: Because it is hot.
In the very next scene, the father while putting on his business suit, looks at the phone that is still on hold, then a recorded voice from the repair company says, “Thank you for your patience. Your call is important to us. An operator will be with you shortly,” which is similar to the message that Blacks have heard from the government during every election cycle since the Emancipation Proclamation, although our blood has been sacrificed to sustain American world domination and this hell of an existence.
The father then goes in his tie drawer and pulls out shackles, juxtaposing the modern day business attire to the shackles of yesteryear. Both are the uniforms of those enslaved to corporate Amerikkka in different periods.
In another scene:
Father: Where are you and your grandad off to today?
Son: The Schomburg.
Father: The Schomburg? Really?
Son: Well they have A/C. Also they have an exhibit on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Granddad is taking me so I know what to expect when I start cutting sugarcane.
Father: This has to stop. Daaad …
After being severely stressed out by his family, the father goes to work, and the main character senses an undertone to a white colleague’s comments:
White coworker: I said, “Are you listening to me, boy?”
White coworker (undertone removed): Huh? I said, “Are you ready for this meeting?”
Father: I’m ready. What happened to the air in here?
White coworker: The building had a little outage because of the heat.
Father: Are you hot, Jimmy?
White coworker: Nope.
This scene reflected the post-traumatic stress that Black people feel daily from living in a combative white world, as well as the double consciousness that Blacks are forced to live with to survive under a white supremacist system, similar to what Frantz Fanon discusses in “Black Skin White Mask.”
On one level, the father knows that his status is inferior, but somewhere deep in his consciousness he knows that he doesn’t want to remain the gopher of white domination. Although the main character spends the whole film denying what his father is teaching him, his father’s words come to life and illustrate his current everyday life.
In “The United States of Paranoia” there are clips from Martin Luther King Jr.’s most militant speech “Beyond Vietnam,” that is perfectly placed, where Martin laments on how Black men are in Southeast Asia fighting and killing for rights that they are not even given in the ghettos in the U.S.
The film ends with the father finally catching up with the air conditioner repairman. And the air conditioner man gives him an answer that is familiar to generations of Blacks who believed it when they were told that the race relations of this country are getting better, when in reality nothing has changed but the faces and the outfits of ourselves and our oppressors. Not the politics.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube. The 2019 San Francisco Black Film Festival runs June 13-16; learn more at SFBFF.org.