Despite our (largely) collective efforts to eradicate racism, action is generally only triggered by highly visible and often violent acts of racist aggression. But what of the drip-drip effect of everyday racism? In themselves supposedly too minor to call out, they function as a pervasive, accumulating burden to be silently borne by their victims day after day, year after year. Dutch filmmaker and actress Joosje Duk forces us to consider these oft ignored acts of micro-aggressions in her NYU thesis short NIGHT. And so, with the film making its online premiere this week, DN took the opportunity to invite Joosje to share how she discovered the narrative means by which to avoid a preachy tone, whilst not soft-pedalling NIGHT’s central theme of blinkered white privilege.
NIGHT is a short drama about micro-aggressions, subtle forms of racism that are easily overlooked but no less important to point out. When racism is discussed in the news, major issues like police brutality are usually in the forefront, but for my film I wanted to zoom in on the smaller, everyday interactions I see happening around me all the time, which is why I picked New York nightlife as my setting. I once experienced a similar situation to the film’s plot when I was in line for a club in France. Like the girls in the film, a group of guys in front of me were denied at the door without any explanation. Nobody said or did anything, even though everyone knew why they were denied. That moment always stuck with me.
In the script phase I talked to many women from various backgrounds in New York, who helped me edit and revise the script. They explained to me that it’s hard for white women to understand their privilege unless they were to experience what it is like to be a minority in the United States. When something racist occurs, many people feel like minorities are being ‘too sensitive,’ but what would they say if they were the ones being discriminated against? NIGHT plays with that question and gives people a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a minority’s shoes.
When something racist occurs, many people feel like minorities are being ‘too sensitive,’ but what would they say if they were the ones being discriminated against?
Initially, the script was written without the ‘switch’ (when you watch the movie you’ll get what I mean by that!), but that felt too preachy. In the rehearsal process we then explored what the story was like the other way around, and we discovered that the film became more unique and uncomfortable in that way.
We shot NIGHT on an ARRI Alexa in New York in April 2016 and premiered the film exactly a year later in April 2017 at the Sarasota Film Festival. Since then, NIGHT has screened at fifteen film festivals worldwide, among which were the Oscar-qualifying Urbanworld Film Festival and Nashville Film Festival, and the BAFTA-recognized Aesthetica Short Film Festival. NIGHT won Best Overall Film at the Chicago CineYouth Film Festival as well as Best Acting and Best Writing at the Trinity Film Festival. Most recently, NIGHT received the Huffington Post Arts Impact Award at the Nitehawk Shorts Festival in New York.
I’d love for NIGHT to be a story inspiring people to feel confident talking about race in a positive and stimulating way. I hope those who experience micro-aggressions on a daily basis are listened to and taken seriously. Moments of micro-aggressions may seem invisible or innocent to some, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a severe impact on others. NIGHT is also a film about friendship, and how the dynamic within a friend group changes when people aren’t completely open and honest with each other.