The Inheritance [Ann Arbor 2021]

Mar 29, 2021
By Harry Jones

Web Exclusive

Ephraim Asili’s debut feature centers around the lives of a Black Socialist collective in Philadelphia. Drawing from the director’s own experiences within a collective, The Inheritance blends form with a non-conformity that echoes the lives of its characters.

The titular inheritance comes by way of a (not unreasonably sized) house. Full of art; books on Black Socialist theory, vinyls of Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis speeches and vibrantly painted walls in every room, the bricks and mortar hand-me-down seems like the perfect place to start a Marxist haven, and that’s exactly what beneficiaries Julien (Eric Lockley) and Gwen (Nozipho McLean) do, thanks to the death of the former’s grandmother.

After introducing us to his characters, as they discuss and organize the set up of the collective, Asili jars the opening exchanges of dialogue and employs a more radical approach to the film’s mechanics. He has his actors repeatedly read lines from black revolutionary poets; or have them (seemingly out of character) talk candidly in front of quotes by poets such as Audre Lorde or Calvin Hernton that decorate the house. He also bolsters the narrative exchanges with archival footage of Shirley Chisholm’s ‘72 Presidential Campaign or members of the MOVE organization—a group that supplies a strong thread throughout the film’s establishment of its politics.

Asili’s film explores the collective at its center with an eye that unashamedly owes its style to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise (made reference to in a poster hanging in the kitchen). The characters move about the house—both physically and intellectually—in a manner both stimulating and fallible. They discuss all manner of revolutionary idealism but also can’t seem to get past the bourgeois concept of whether or not to make the house a “shoes on” or “shoes off” household. All this typified quite comically by the presence of resented collective member Rich (Chris Jarell), who can’t seem to accommodate the group’s ideological way of living while also revealing in them their most petty grudges.

Though stylistically derivative (to an extent), there’s a freshness—if not a lack of bite—to The Inheritance. Each frame pops, each reference is a satisfying morsel to chew on, and each shift in delivery of its central idea of collective thinking and living is, undeniably, a welcomed bit of gratification. Simply watching the housemates juice vegetables or polish a trumpet or tidying up is a worthwhile examination of the mundanities inherent in living radically, as with any other kind of living. Asili’s film may not have the acerbic transgression of Godard’s Maoist household, but it’s a sharp, radical piece of filmmaking all the same.

Author rating: 7.5/10

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