There is nothing that Hollywood loves more than to make movies depicting “the black struggle”. All Day and a Night is the latest film from Netflix which tells the story of a young black man dealing with the reality of his circumstances.
Ashton Sanders plays Jahkor, a young man who has just been convicted of double murder. Jahkor, now has to live the rest of his days in county jail with his father (Jeffrey Wright) who was also convicted of murder. Jahkor replays the important moments of his life that led him to his current fate. Growing up with a violent father and a hapless mother, he looked to the streets for answers on how to escape his reality only to take the exact same route his father only much faster.
Believe it or not, most black people did not have an upbringing that mirrors films such as Menace II Society or South Central. As the film attempts to find a common ground of relatability with its audience, storytelling destroys that bridge within the opening minutes.
Jahkor breaks into his victim’s home and murders a couple of right of their teenage daughter. There is an understanding of storytelling that if your protagonist commits a heinous act, there better be a good justification for doing so. Otherwise, your audience will look at him as a villain removing any ability to connect with them the way you want them to. This is the fatal flaw the film never recovers from because Jahkor’s motivations never justify the murders in question.
Anti-heroes are known to do bad things for good reasons but Black Panther co-writer Joe Robert Cole chooses to tell a story about American anti-villains, people who believe their cause is good but their methods are inherently evil. The dream of escaping the hood is one that many in poorer neighborhoods have but few will achieve by means that will not devastate those around them.
All Day and a Night displays great acting from up and comer Ashton Sanders as well as veteran Jeffrey Wright. Sanders, who has built a solid catalog of roles in the last few years is a strong standout. While his character is anything but redeemable, Sanders represents a story that is sadly seen too many times in fiction and reality, a person who grew up with no moral compass and even fewer options in life-ending up where society’s odds place him. A SoundCloud rapper with ties to the criminal underworld, his character looks for a way out for him and his future son until he accepts that day will never come.
Jeffrey Wright’s performance as a drug addict low life and the father of our protagonist will have people talking the most. While it is hardly an Oscar-worthy performance, Wright displays aside to the actor we haven’t seen before, emulating the persona of a hardcore California criminal. Similar to his son’s motivations, the character wants his son to live a better life than him. When the brutal realization hits him that all he provided was the path that led him, his father, and his son to the same prison yard as him, the reality of failure hits him and audiences like a sack of bricks.
All Day and a Night is beautifully shot making even the worst areas of Oakland look attractive in it’s cinematography. With a solid look and a good acting base, not all is lost when it comes to the film but it’s muddy narrative and poor storytelling devices are too much to overcome.