By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act June 20, 2014 at 2:09PM
Director Deon Taylor’s dramatic thriller "Supremacy," centers on any black family’s worst nightmare: being held hostage by an Aryan Brotherhood member just released from a 14-year prison stint.
Based on a true story, the film follows Tully (Joe Anderson), as he is just released from prison, and is picked up by an Aryan Brotherhood groupie, Doreen (Dawn Oliveri). Later, a police officer stops their car and Tully murders him. Escaping the scene, they break into a black family’s old farmhouse, headed by Mr. Walker (Danny Glover) and his young wife Odessa, played by a rough and tumble Lela Rochon. As Tully and Doreen plot their escape and wreak havoc on the family, a shrewd Mr. Walker attempts to negotiate with Tully.
What’s most interesting about the film is the way family dynamics and conflict come to head as danger ensues. A young boy in the house ponders if Doreen and Tully will kill his family as they make sandwiches in the eerie kitchen, while Odessa warns her young daughter Cassie that she shouldn’t have had two children in the first place. The film also reveals an interesting paternal tension between Mr. Walker and his son, a police officer played by Derek Luke.
It is refreshing to see Lela Rochon in a starkly different role than we’ve seen her in past films, where her beauty and sex appeal tended to take precedent. Here, she is stripped down, without makeup with a tattoo on her neck and messy wig, just trying to save her family, and get out of the house. In one of the most moving scenes, she talks openly and honestly to Tully, unafraid of the violence he’s committed. It’s scary and comforting as her humanity strikes something in him.
Shot on 16mm film, Taylor utilizes his horror film background to render a sense of dread and danger in the grainy darkness and shadows of the aged interior house location, which often feels haunted. However, the complex visual design doesn’t always match the tone of the film, especially in scenes where Tully and Doreen’s overt racism is supposed to intimidate or feel dangerous. Many racially-offensive lines are actually quite funny and forced, especially a line from Doreen telling Odessa that her name should be something like “Shaniqua,” or Tully calling Cassie's baby a “niglet,” but perhaps that’s the point; to pinpoint how insane racism is to the point of humor.
However, in a film about such grave subject matter, we expect Tully’s character to evoke something more in us- fear, loathing, anger- but that never really happened for me. In a super-charged performance, he elicits empathy and curiosity, but not much else. I wanted to feel more for him, but I knew only of his actions in this house and that did little to reveal character as much as it showcased the Aryan views he subscribed to.
In the end, "Supremacy" rests on a premise that makes for high drama and surprise, though it's not always executed. It’s the stuff of nightmarish fiction but the nonfiction source material adds a level of depth to its commentary on racism and race relations in America today. You never know who could be coming through your front door, and how to negotiate with the hatred they may bring.