Truth and Movies

The Inheritance

Review by Madeleine Seidel @mhllndrivethru

Directed by

Ephraim Asili

Starring

Aurielle Akerele Chris Jarell Shirley Chisholm

Anticipation.

A 2020 festival favourite is finally released.

Enjoyment.

A radical legacy brought alive by Asili's innovative storytelling.

In Retrospect.

An informative, necessary portrait of Black liberation in Philadelphia.

This creative riff on Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise explores the power of Black activism and community.

Our politics is interwoven into the way we lead our lives in such an intimate manner that is inseparable from our everyday existence. Ephraim Asili’s debut feature The Inheritance captures this through interwoven stories of activist groups in Philadelphia as they live, work, and fight for their communities.

A creative adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, the film follows a young man who inherits a house in Philadelphia from his grandmother. When moving in with his girlfriend, he finds his late grandmother’s books, magazines and records, and together they learn about Black activists of the 1970s and ’80s that were inspired by Marxist political movements. The couple start a communal living space called the House of Ubuntu in the spirit of these activists, turning the house into a community centre that aims to teach the tenets of Black socialism to the people of Philadelphia.

While this central narrative unfolds, The Inheritance morphs into a striking visual essay about another radical community in Philadelphia named MOVE, a Black separatist movement that was the target of a 1985 bombing by the Philadelphia Police that killed 11 people. The rest of the film splits its time between narrative and prose, devoting time to the forebears of Black Marxism in the global struggle against racism and capitalism while thoughtfully placing the young activists in the House of Ubuntu as a continuation of this work.

Inspired in part by his own time living in a similar communal living space, Asili is adept at picking up on the subtle personal dynamics in the house – he frames the little fights, flirtations, and irritations that come with co-existing in a way that feels equal parts mundane and important. In the best way, the scenes featuring members of the House of Ubuntu play like a sitcom, revelling in the everyday moments that make their commitment to living collectively engaging and exciting.

Because of the overt political intentions of the film, The Inheritance is in the middle of a balancing act as to not to appear overly didactic, but the performances – anchored by Nozipho Mclean’s magnetic turn as a driven academic who guides her housemates through the theoretical side of their activism – keep things fresh by bringing a sense of naturalism to the house’s dynamics.

The half-narrative, half-documentary structure is critical to defining the overarching theme of Asili’s work. Told through archival footage and newsreels, the story of MOVE is vital in the way their commitment to collectivism and community parallels Asili’s fictional group. These two stories converge when the surviving members of MOVE – who were children when their parents were imprisoned due to a shootout that predated the bombing – and the House of Ubuntu meet, and these lifelong activists share the personal toll of their work with those that are just beginning their journey in liberation politics.

The thoughtful union of these communities shows that the titular ‘inheritance’ refers not just to a house, but a point in the long legacy of Black liberation groups and their radical potential. As a portrait of activists deep in the struggle for liberation, The Inheritance is a politically urgent and entertaining film that sees the humanity at the heart of the continuous fight for freedom.

Published 12 Mar 2021

Tags: Black Marxist Ephraim Asili House of Ubuntu Jean-Luc Godard La Chinoise MOVE The Inheritance

Anticipation.

A 2020 festival favourite is finally released.

Enjoyment.

A radical legacy brought alive by Asili's innovative storytelling.

In Retrospect.

An informative, necessary portrait of Black liberation in Philadelphia.

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