Outfest 2020: The Obituary of Tunde Johnson

Steven Silver in The Obituary of Tunde Johnson. Courtesy of TOOTJ, LLC.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson may be another time loop film on paper but the film’s theme makes it incredibly relevant for 2020.

A Black teen, Tunde Johnson (Steven Silver), relives the same day repeatedly–always waking up after getting shot and killed by police.  Getting killed over and over leads Tunde to confront his own life.  Where does he fit in a world that judges him for being Black?  Born in Africa, Tunde and his family relocated to America.  Not even the family’s wealth can prevent Tunde from being repeatedly killed by police.  No matter what he does during the day, it always ends with being murdered by police.

Tunde also struggles with coming out as gay to his parents, Adesola (Sammi Rotibi) and Yomi (Tembi Locke).  He is in a relationship with closeted boyfriend Soren O’Connor (Spencer Neville) but Soren, the lacrosse team captain, is also going out with Tunde’s childhood friend, Marley Meyers (Nicola Peltz).  Soren is afraid to deal with his own reality, too.  He’s afraid of coming to his conservative cable host father, Alfred (David James Elliott).  It’s always interesting to watch this dynamic play out and see where things end up.  Will things be the same or different?  How will Tunde change up his day in order to avoid his death?  Will he be able to avoid is death?  One thing is certainly true: no day ever goes the same.  Tunde is either alone, with Soren, or out with Soren’s dad.

This film originally premiered in during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Discovery program.  And yet, nearly a year later, there is no announced distribution.  Obviously, 2020 has made for a unique year in terms of movies but surely, a streamer out there could have been interested, right?  In any event, this film is extremely relevant in terms of what it means to be Black in America.  The fact that screenwriter Stanley Kalu utilizes a time loop isn’t lost on me as a viewer.  All we have to do is look at the news every single day and it’s the same thing.  Over and over.  The events of this year have led to a national conversation on racial injustice and systemic racism.  One can only hope that something can come from it.

Kalu, who was born and raised in Africa and attended college in the United States– wrote this film when he was 19 years old.  The issues that his script tackled some four years ago are still issues at hand today.  This is a dire shame.  How hard is it to solve racism?

Ali LeRoi takes Kalu’s script and presents it on the screen in his own visual style.  This could be the most basic of films and it would still be enough to get people talking.  Coming out to one’s family is never easy–trust me, I know what it’s like.  But to exist in a world in which one’s skin color can mean the difference between life or death?  This is not something I can or will ever personally experience but I can only listen to friends that experience it on a daily basis.  That anyone still experiences both racism and police brutality shows that this world still has some ways to go.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is a film that should get audiences talking and lead to conversations about making change.

CAST:  Steven Silver, Spencer Neville, Nicola Peltz, Joey Pollari, Tembi Locke, Alessandra Rosaldo, with Sammi Rotibi and David James Elliott

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson screened during the 2020 Outfest Film Festival as the Breakthrough Centerpiece selection. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.