There’s a fascination in Hollywood with William Shakespeare. In fact, Shakespeare has been adapted for the silver screen more than 525 times. However, I don’t think even he could have imagined his work being repeatedly updated for numerous generations over the decades. Remember that time in The Women in Brewster Place when even Leon and Robin Given’s character adapted and updated the text to appeal to young urban children? Or 25 years ago when Baz Luhrmann took Romeo and Juliet to the beach with a a full on West Side Story brawl? Well baby now, Carey Williams has twisted it even further, making history with an entirely cast multi-cultural cast and our first Black Romeo and Juliet. What does that look like and does it work? Hell yeah it does! It bends and molds into the current landscape with creatively bold use of social media – which has become prevalent during this pandemic making technology our primary mode of communication.
Directed by Sundance alum Carey Williams, the story is told entirely through Generation Z’s obsession with social media and smartphone screens. Williams pushes buttons with his bold adaptation, reinventing the world’s most beloved love story through fervor and lyricism, while blending text messages with some traditional Shakespearean dialogue. When a character texted he was trying to be “incog-negro” I hollered out loud and virtually cheered! Like Baz Luhrmann, 25 years ago, Williams uses R#J to take us into the subversive love language, where GIFs, Spotify playlist exchanges, and Instagram profiles kindle romance and unexpected windows of vulnerability. In short, this film was innovative and smoking!
In the middle of it all, the star-crossed lover plead for peace and desperately search for a way to escape their impending destiny amidst the escalating tension between their two families. Using Dios De La Muerte as a backdrop, Juliet’s artwork, a love soundtrack crossing genres from hip to classical, adding sound to emoji’s and messages to that famous monologue being executed via FaceTime was hella cool. It reminded me so much of the days when you liked a boy and fell asleep on the phone not wanting to hangup. When Juliet touches her face after their long, romantic call it’s speaks volumes without uttering one single word. It works due to Williams’ direction and script, but mostly due to the unwavering commitment and talent of Francesca Noel and Camaron Engels. They are perfectly yoked in every way and the film doesn’t work without their strength and talent.
Like many 25 years ago, those panties twisted in a wad with the Leonardo DiCaprio version didn’t know how to embrace change and innovation with a fresh spin and perspective on an age old story, will be salty about this one too. But, I say embrace where we are. Embrace the change. Embrace the new voices that seek to introduce the classics to a whole new generation with a gaze that reflects and looks like them now and forever.