By Nabeela Damji
Director Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? is a story about working class American families living in the south. The black and white film, set in modern-day Mississippi and Louisiana, depicts life as anything but that.
The film focuses on four stories of African American’s living in Louisiana and Mississippi during the summer of 2017. There is no ah-ha moment, just a look into the ordinary daily lives of those living in today’s America.
Kevin Goodman the “Mardis Gras Indian Chief” represents the cultural practice that is slowly fading under the threat of modern living. He ends up with the least amount of screen time and makes the least amount of sense as to why his piece is actually in the film.
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Next up is “The Woman”, played by Judy Hill. Hill’s story is the main focus of this film. She is a middle-aged woman who overcame drug addiction and abuse to set up her own business, only to be threatened with expulsion for no good reason. Judy’s story is one of heartbreak and resilience. One of the most gut-wrenching parts of the film is when Judy is speaking to someone about her past. She describes being sexually abused, and using drugs as a way to escape, telling this lady to do whatever she needs to do to be okay. It’s probably, the most powerful scene in the film.
Ronaldo King and Titus Turner are two young brothers, aged fourteen and eight, who bike through the streets and hop on moving trains. Ronaldo tries to teach Titus about ongoing gun violence against young African American youth in today’s society. Ronaldo often pushes his brother around, teaching him how to fight to protect himself, and having a conversation about their “race vs colour”.
Lastly, we have The New Black Panther Party, who are demanding justice for names like Jerome Jackson, Phillip Carroll, and Alton Sterling. We are shown their daily activities, such as feeding the homeless, and the party protesting on the streets to demand justice for their fallen brothers and sisters.
The film uses these discussions between Judy and her friends, where they talk about the meaning of being Black in America, and the between the New Black Panther party to discuss racial injustice in America. Although these topics are more prevalent than ever in today’s society, this film misses the spot. There are a few moments where you really think about what’s being said, but it fails to elicit any new or true emotion. There are many pieces of the film that either felt out of place, or just didn’t belong. I understand that its about seeing the daily lives of people, however a lot of scenes were unnecessary and felt as thought they were put in to extend the film.
Overall, the film tries its best to give us insight but ends up looking more like a dull missed opportunity than anything. The ending provides the most “action” of the film, but by then it’s too late. The film is simply underwhelming and mundane.
*Editor’s Note: What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18