Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
"Your Legacy Is More Than a Name" - Watch Michael B. Jordan in First Trailer for 'Creed' "Your Legacy Is More Than a Name" - Watch Michael B. Jordan in First Trailer for 'Creed' 'Extant' Returns to CBS 7/1. Get Caught Up w/ This 1-Minute Recap + Read What Critics Are Saying 'Extant' Returns to CBS 7/1. Get Caught Up w/ This 1-Minute Recap + Read What Critics Are Saying Today, 26 Years Ago, 'Do The Right Thing' Opened in Theaters. Watch the Cast & Crew Reunite Today, 26 Years Ago, 'Do The Right Thing' Opened in Theaters. Watch the Cast & Crew Reunite Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman & Julia Roberts Seek Justice in First Trailer for 'Secret in Their Eyes' Remake Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman & Julia Roberts Seek Justice in First Trailer for 'Secret in Their Eyes' Remake Issa Rae's HBO-Bound 'Awkward Black Girl'-esque Comedy Gets a Director Issa Rae's HBO-Bound 'Awkward Black Girl'-esque Comedy Gets a Director Watch Trailer for Fascinating New Documentary About Black Men and Chess - ‘Sideline’ Watch Trailer for Fascinating New Documentary About Black Men and Chess - ‘Sideline’ The Irresponsibility of 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' The Irresponsibility of 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' Full List of BET AWARDS Winners (Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard Take Actor Nods) Full List of BET AWARDS Winners (Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard Take Actor Nods) Zadie Smith Will Make Her Feature Screenwriting Debut, Teaming up w/ Claire Denis for Sci-Fi Project Zadie Smith Will Make Her Feature Screenwriting Debut, Teaming up w/ Claire Denis for Sci-Fi Project Review: Arriving on Netflix TODAY, Definitive Nina Simone Documentary, 'What Happened, Miss Simone' Review: Arriving on Netflix TODAY, Definitive Nina Simone Documentary, 'What Happened, Miss Simone' Haiti and the Dominican Republic - A Conflict Captured on Film Haiti and the Dominican Republic - A Conflict Captured on Film A Muscle-Bound Michael B. Jordan Hitting a Speed Bag w/ Stallone's Encouragement in Pic from 'Creed' A Muscle-Bound Michael B. Jordan Hitting a Speed Bag w/ Stallone's Encouragement in Pic from 'Creed' Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Starz Announces Return Date for Original Series 'Power' + New Key Art + Trailer Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? 'Supremacy' Director Deon Taylor Talks Race, Horror, and Working With Lela Rochon (LAFF Premiere) 'Supremacy' Director Deon Taylor Talks Race, Horror, and Working With Lela Rochon (LAFF Premiere) Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

"The Strange Thing About The Johnsons" Director Ari Aster Talks To Shadow & Act About His Provocative & Controversial Short Film

Shadow and Act By Emmanuel Akitobi | Shadow and Act November 28, 2011 at 12:16PM

A little over a week ago, Shadow and Act introduced many readers to a short film that had the internet abuzz with all types of mixed emotions.  It seemed that most who viewed director Ari Aster's The Strange Thing About The Johnsons had a strong reaction to it, and a personal opinion regarding the film's meaning.  Well, S&A reached out to Aster and he has provided answers to a lot of the questions our readers had about his film.
48
Aster_Johnsons

A little over a week ago, Shadow and Act introduced many readers to a short film that had the internet abuzz with all types of mixed emotions.  It seemed that most who viewed director Ari Aster's The Strange Thing About The Johnsons had a strong reaction to it, and a personal opinion regarding the film's meaning.  Well, S&A reached out to Aster and he has provided answers to a lot of the questions our readers had about his film.

S&A: Where did the concept for your film originate?

Ari Aster: It was actually an idea that sprouted between me and a few friends (one of whom plays the son in the Johnsons) the summer before my first year at AFI. We were talking about topics that are too taboo to be explored, and so we arrived at taboos that weren't even taboos because they were so unfathomable, and the most popular was that of a son molesting his father. "That should never be made into a film!" So, it began on that level, but from there it evolved into something very different.

What led you to decide on using an all-black cast?  Was it a gimmick, complete colorblind casting, or an impromptu decision, maybe?

The actor who plays the son is a close friend who's starred in most of my films (including all of my pre-AFI student work) and he was there from the film's conception. I cast him because he was right for the role and I wanted to work with him. At that point it was obvious that we were casting African Americans. The color of the Johnson family's skin is totally incidental. It's of no consequence to the story or its execution.

Did the casting of black actors in a film with such a provocative theme lead to any reservations about going forward with the project?

Not really. Again, the color of the family isn't important. We certainly assumed that casting black actors in a film that tackles such transgressive themes would create something of a stir, and it would be a lie to say that we weren't hesitant, especially as many people were advising us against the decision. But the longer the dialogue continued about whether it was okay to cast the way we wanted to (without making a discernible statement on race), the more exciting that argument became. There is no intended commentary on the black experience and I would never claim to have any insight into that.

Were there any concerns on your part regarding how viewers would perceive the film?

Were we concerned? Not really. Were we aware that this would be polarizing? Of course. We anticipated some backlash, especially in the beginning (when the idea was still fresh to us), but I lived with this premise for so long that I basically forgot how disturbing it was. Once we committed to the project, the challenge wasn't to find new ways of keeping it shocking or outrageous for 30 minutes; it was to tell the story as dramatically as we could, and to keep true to our original intentions without overstepping our own boundaries of taste. We also had to fight to raise the budget ourselves, so convincing people to donate money to this "role-reversing incest whatsit" was more difficult than releasing it to an anonymous group of people.
I also have to say that we were on our festival run and the movie was unexpectedly leaked onto the internet, which caught us completely off-guard.

Did the actors in your film have any reservations about any aspects of your film?

No. They had questions when they first came onto the project - many of them were the same questions that I'm answering here - but they were all totally on board. I think the actors saw it as an opportunity to play something different. If the film works, it's because of their commitment.

There has been much debate on our site, and all over the Internet, about the meaning and intent of your film; can you explain whether The Strange Thing About The Johnsons was intended to be humorous or dramatic?

Why not both? I see the film as a satire of the domestic melodrama (a la Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray), so it draws more from movie cliches and genre tropes, especially from films dealing with abuse or family dysfunction, than it does real life. But it was a challenge for us (and something that we always kept in mind) to transcend the absurdity of the premise and to actually consider the implications of such a thing. In a lot ways the film serves as a nightmarish cautionary tale on liberal parenting, a sort of worst-case scenario for a father who's granted his son too much freedom and respect, but there's also the suggestion of culpability on the father's part, so the film skips a lot of the causes and focuses primarily on the effects of an insidious, inverted dynamic.

In the end, we just wanted to make a film that was compelling, visceral and unique.

This article is related to: Ari Aster, Interview


Shadow & ActNewsletter