Imagine being a young Black boy in America. Every time a white woman passes her purse is immediately clutched to chest. A nice car is miraculously pulled over and the driver is interrogated or sometimes physically assaulted or arrested. Being young, black and on trial means juries don’t see a human being and labeled the young man guilty upon sight. Boy. Man. Human. Monster. What do YOU see when your eyes gaze upon a Black man? is he a human being or is he a monster? Do monsters cry in the dark?
Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) is a 17-year-old honor student and budding filmmaker whose world comes crashing down when he’s charged with felony murder at a New York bodega. He soon faces a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison. Directed by Anthony Mandler, Monster is a thought provoking, gritty tale on how perception can shift one’s future in a good or tragic direction.
It’s a premise we have seen a million times before, but what’s genius about this adaptation, is stage directions being read from Steve’s point of view within the confines of the film adding to the intensity and drama. It also challenges the adage of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and how antiquated that can be in a post #BlackLivesMatter #MeToo #TimesUp world. How juries immediately view Black men with a rap sheet that someone deemed a monster strictly based on skin color and assumed economic disparity. We are painfully reminded how sometimes one is unfairly judged by the company they keep. Steve came from a great, middle-class family and trouble had never darkened his doorstep until he met King (ASAP Rocky). Would being bullied into 93 steps almost change how Steve would spend the remainder of his youth.
Trials aren’t about being guilty or innocent, but about how well you understand YOU! But what happens after the trial? What happens when you get to possibly go home after experiencing incarceration? Do you still hear inmates screaming for guards? Are you so afraid to close your eyes that one sleepless night melts into the next one?
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. is the epitome of “black don’t crack” playing numerous teen roles in multiple genres to perfection and his portrayal of Steve Harmon is no different. He is briefly reunited with his “Monsters and Men” co-star John David Washington, who is disturbingly good as gangbanger Richard “Bobo” Evans. But, the standout in this film for me was legal eagle defense lawyer Maureen O’Brien played skillfully by Jennifer Ehle. Her courtroom scenes and solo scenes with Harrison are compelling to witness. Monster reminds you that a bright light can be snuff out with the blink of an eye if language is not crafted in just the right way by the victims, lawyers, parents and criminals. It’s streaming right now on Nettfix.