Being a woman of a certain age, comes with a special set of challenges, but it is compounded when you are Black, an artist and looking to embark upon a second act in order to become reborn personally and professionally.
Radha Blank is a having a mid-life crisis. Instead of moving forward with her play around gentrification ‘Harlem Avenue’ off the ground, she delves into the world of hip hop in an attempt to find her authentic self and voice. When she’s challenged by the status quo, her Korean best friend/manager Archie (Peter Kim) and her unexpected lover D (Oswin Benjamin), she cones to the realization that sometimes in life when looking into a mirror you have to decide whether or not you are truly seeing yourself.
As writer, director and actor, Radha Blank fires on all cylinders. Being raised by a cinephile and having strong cinematic New York influences makes 40 Year Old Version fresh, raw and relevant. She’s giving us a New York tale of starving artists, what they’re willing to do in order to find their truest version of self and how those white gatekeepers deemed with the task of financially backing projects seem to desire redefining what Black stories are relevant or not. Her dialogue had me hollering out loud with lines like ‘…farting my my ass had other plans’ or quips about creaking knees. My sista’s over forty know those dilemmas all too well.
More importantly, Blank shows that falling in love is ageless, especially when seen through the eyes of D. 26 year-old D only sees a woman with exceptional talent with rhymes. He’s like a chocolate Mr. Miyagi to Radha’s ‘Karate Kid.’ Oswin Benjamin, as a first time actor, is absolutely wonderful and handles Radha with so much gentle, tender loving care that one becomes enchanted by his performance and presence. Peter Kim as Archie is the best friend we all want and wish we had. He is a true ride or die even when he knows he should bounce.
But, the true star of this film is Radha Blank and hip hop. She puts the lens on a world that has often times been portrayed in a very specific lens and light. Like ‘Brown Sugar’, her love of the genre is on full display and in a manner that all can appreciate. Blank unapologetically lets her draws down around her ankles where we can see her in all her raw, real, radical beauty and I was there for all of it.
This amazingly gifted new cinematic voice shatters stereotypes with a story that point blank illustrates how long Black artists have been wearing masks out of fear, being fired or being ostracized right out of the industry. An industry that is not now or never has been geared toward people of color to succeed. You can count the number of known Black filmmakers on both hands. But, with Blank, Coogler, Misha Green and all the other new voices who are established or on the horizon one thing is for sure, Black people and our stories, legacy and lineage are in good hands moving forward.