Black Boy Joy

This was a short film that played before Working Man. It focused on two generations of men living in one home with an autistic child, Selim. This short film stood out to me because of the apparent differences in parenting.

Miles is gentle to Selim, often going what I would consider “above and beyond” for making sure his child’s needs are taken care of.

One of the problems that arises in the short film is the doll. Selim has a somewhat unhealthy attachment to a doll that his mother gifted him before passing away. It is clear that Selim is quite attached to this doll and relies on her for emotional stability. The doll is Selim’s comfort item and Miles is well aware of how much the son needs the doll at all times. Selim’s attachment to the doll reminds me of how I cherished my beloved stuffed animals as a child. Growing up without a parent can leave a child feeling more disconnected from those around them, since their emotions are regulated and influenced by their parental guardians. Usually, your parents are there to encourage you, help you through guilt or shame, etc, and you can always feel the void when you’re missing one parent. This void is what Selim’s doll is supposed to fill for Selim.

The film reaches its true scene when Otis, Miles’s father and Selim’s grandfather, is waiting for Miles and his son to get ready so they can go to church. Miles is prepared – he gets up earlier than his son, gets himself dressed, and prepares two outfits for his son to choose.

This introduces one moment of conflict when the older man sees what the child has picked out and says, “That’s what he’s wearing?”

You can tell from this one line that Otis hasn’t supported how Miles lets his son makes his own choices. Miles’s parenting style is immediately questioned on the spot, but he shrugs it off.

This moment sets the tone for the next few minutes of the script. Selim gets dressed and they’re all ready to go, but the doll is missing.

It is revealed that Otis has hidden the doll, having grown sick of the child’s emotional dependency on it. Selim  has an anxiety attack while the younger man confronts his father about hiding it.

Watching Selim have an anxiety attack when the doll went missing was something that I could relate to. I often found myself sinking into intense feelings of anxiety when separated from my comfort items, as I had a unusual relationship with my parents growing up.

However, instead of making Selim leave the house without the doll, Miles looks for it, which angers his father, who believes that he is “coddling” his son.

Otis is dry and blunt with his son, and you can feel the emotional distance between him and Miles through the screen. You can sense that Miles is only gentle to his son because that is what he desired growing up, and Otis only comes around, realizing that he needs to be more gentle when he is yelling about Selim’s shortcomings, to which Miles responds by yelling “He is not soft!”

Miles leaves to allow himself a weak moment in his room, and I say that he “allows” himself this moment because not only are men pressured to be strong and to shed tears away from everyone, but there is still work to be done. They still have to get ready for church.

Attending church and maintaining your image puts a pressure on all of us, but the added element of attending a black church only makes it harder for our small family. I can’t speak for other churches, but I feel that there is a certain standard that you have to meet when attending a black church. Your clothes have to be ironed. You have to be wearing a suit or a skirt/dress no shorter than your knee, etc.  Do you know if anyone is paying this much attention to you? No, but some old lady will always look at you funny if you show up in blue jeans, hence Otis’s question to Miles before regarding Selim’s attire.

And then there’s the matter of losing a loved one and the church’s response to it. Granted, church members always tell you to let them know if you need anything, but sometimes they are not there when you finally do call them, and I believe that sometimes, we are forced to appear more independent, stronger, or even more emotionally stable than we are, which is why Miles had to shed his tears in solitude – he had to maintain his image of being a cold, in charge young father, a concept that bled into his family life and kept him from crying in front of his father.

However, Otis comes in as Miles is wiping his eyes and he hugs him. There are no real words shared, but Otis does his best to support his son without words. There are hard pats on the back and shoulder, but you can tell by watching that Otis hasn’t seen his son cry much. He has no idea what to say, so he keeps hitting him on the back, to “puff him up”.

All is not well when the two men walk back into the living room, but you get the sense that Miles has the (emotional) support of his father now.

We’re left with a faint sense of hope as they head out of the door to church. Maybe Otis will be able to support Miles’s decisions for now on, and even be able to learn how to comfort Selim himself, having returned the doll to him.

I thought this short film was a wonderful way to start the night and it reminded me to be more aware of how I express my emotions and who I reveal them to. We never get any clarity on why Otis is the way he is, but we can only assume that his coldness is a generational curse that Miles is trying to break with Selim. There wasn’t really any joy in the film, and I thought the title was a playful hint at what the short film was going to be about. Perhaps, for this one captured moment in Miles’s life, there isn’t any black boy joy to be felt, at least not right now, but we are left to hope . . .