Film Review: 5150
Today, celebrities and influencers alike have turned to social media as a form of online digital activism in the fight against racism, police brutality, and social injustice. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was born on the internet and lives on the internet, evident in the hashtag in its very title. This is a new generation of ‘woke’ individuals, using their massive platforms and expansive clout to end social injustice.
However, in response to “wokism,” there is a backlash brewing of the “anti-woke.” Right-wing conservatives, politicians and media outlets have invoked a crusade to vilify, discredit, and undercut the loud voices of racist dissent, who they portray as radical, militant, and dangerous. Even worse, these figures of authority are gaslighting black activists, manipulating them and their audiences to question their level of reality, memory and sanity.
This is the focus of Denzel Whitaker and John Trefry’s excellent short film, 5150, which is now streaming exclusively on Argo.
5150 opens with unsettling footage of instances where social media activists have distorted the message of Black Lives Matter. In the next shot, we are introduced to the protagonist, a world-famous celebrity known for his online political activism (played by Jovan Adepo of When They See Us and Watchmen). This celebrity wakes up strapped to a metal cot in a hospital room that is uncanny to a prison cell.
He is being held against his will under the grounds of “5150″: a welfare code in which a hospital may detain an individual under psychological evaluation if he or she is a danger to himself or others. A superimposing white doctor charges him on the grounds of erratic behavior and of inciting violence on another white man.
His confinement is interrupted by three visitors, none of whom are of his choosing, and none of whom help to alleviate his situation. His wife doubts her love for him, his lawyer delivers foreboding information, and his mother questions the seeds of his moral fibre.
These encounters only serve to heighten his rage and antagonize the patient, inching him towards a nervous breakdown.
The holding cell that is meant to restore his sanity is doing precisely the opposite. The celebrity finds himself locked up and cornered, both emotionally and physically, and unable to trust his own reality. With a shocking twist ending (that would be cruel of us to give away), we learn that this act of ‘protective custody’ is anything but. Instead, his detainment is a torturous trap aimed at vilifying and defaming this black activist – to make him seem ‘crazy’.
The ‘doctors’ are the literary embodiment of conservative pundits who scheme against celebrities and influencers through gross misinterpretation, calculated slander, and fabricated scandals to silence the cries of anti-racism. For the protagonist, it isn’t any different.
In the end, the authority figures try to put him and his credibility to sleep, but what they don’t realize is that it’s too late: he’s already woke.
The filmmakers chase the hard-to-swallow pill of reality that even those who are fighting for human rights and equality still face insipid danger by defamation. The filmmakers demand the viewers to watch the protagonist as he watches himself, as he struggles to hold on to his own sanity. This is emphasized by the camera angles aimed at distorting his and our reality: a fish-eye view shot through a hospital-camera, seemingly arbitrary close-ups on vague objects (a golden skull), and tight frames to enhance the sense of claustrophobia.
As such, we become the observer and the observed. We enter the mindset of mainstream black-and-white thinking with a color palette that matches.
With the smallest tweaks of tone, from confusion to anger to sadness, the filmmakers superbly capture the protagonist’s wide range of emotions, making us question if he is a narcissist or simply a man striving for social justice. Overall, the film poignantly navigates the shifting demeanors of a man and a society that is ultimately pitted against itself.
5150 is now streaming exclusively on Argo. Watch here.