AKA: Project One
Year Released: 2020
Distributor: Yellow Box Theatre
Running Time: 34 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: One was a very unique presentation and I can’t think of many works like it.
-One: A Contemporary Artistic Exploration of Race is available to watch on YouTube.
-One: A Contemporary Artistic Exploration of Race was a project done by Yellow Box Theatre. They are a company based in the Brixton area in London. They specialize in experimental dramas revolving around the lives of ordinary people with conscious productions.
-This was directed by Ruth Allier-Dugdale. She’s a playwright and owner of Yellow Box Theatre. Allier-Dugdale is a former physiotherapist who used her skills in London and even Phnom Penh, Cambodia while also interning at an anti-sex trafficking charity in that country.
-The final segment called “Hope” features Paloma Davis. She’s an actress, poet, and playwright who is working on plays such as Olive and Birds. Davis has been featured in productions such as The Crucible and The Generation of Z while also being a graduate of The London Meisner Company. Outside of her theatrical and writing work, she also moonlights as a professional wrestler under the name Ronnie Knocks. This makes One the 2nd film I’ve reviewed involving someone in my Indie BritWres Documentary Top 7 idea after You Are Cordially Invited which featured Kanji.
2020 was one of the most tumultuous years that anyone alive right now has experienced. Besides COVID-19 ruining everything, another major example that made it a frightening time where the whole world saw the murder of George Floyd. Protests erupted not just in America for racial equality, but throughout the entire world, and the UK was no exception. Even that part of Europe dealt with racism despite being across the Atlantic from America and one notable moment was in Bristol where protestors dumped the statue of slave owner Edward Colston in the river for example. Racism became the forefront of the conversation during that tension-fraught summer and one could argue that it surpassed the discussion of coronavirus during that time. You know things were intense when Lil’ Baby of all rappers made a huge protest anthem that time (“The Bigger Picture”) and not your usual suspects like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole. People did their best to raise awareness that someone’s skin color shouldn’t be a crime and I even saw a few white allies doing their best to educate themselves on the matter while also helping out their melanated counterparts. One piece of expression came from all the way in London town as an experimental theatre crafted various vignettes to give light to this subject.
Was this British short film a valiant effort or would this be a token gesture just to virtue signal the viewers?
One: A Contemporary Artistic Exploration of Race is a tapestry of monologues, short dramas, and dancing as expressions on the concept of race. This was all shot in the Yellow Box Theatre where various actors and dancers convey concepts of racism, protest, allyship, dog whistles, and nonwhite immigrants in different forms. Some segments involve interpretive dance with ballet and hip-hop, poetry, and some dramatic plots of sorts. Each segment is tied to a famous quote while also incorporating cinematography, various sets, and multiple viewpoints shown.
I can certainly say this was quite the original watch. It seems like I’ve been checking out more works that have been filmed in a theatre much like how I covered Theatre of Wrestling not too long ago. However, we’re dealing with something more serious while still being experimental like the last example. Each segment was filmed quite beautifully with such crisp camera work and sound editing. There were times where I wouldn’t have guessed this was filmed in the same location with some of the set designs and camera placements at some moments. The sets were beautifully done such as abstract designs, interior spaces, and a small gazebo. The topics were handled very well regardless if there was dialogue or not. The initial segment titled Revolt was a very fascinating take since it involves Rachel Ridley, a Black ballerina dancing in an all white room at Yellow Box Theatre (the same room where everything else was filmed in) with the only prop in the background was a piano. There was some great symbolism with the dancer and the piano being the only “Black” aspects of a white room as a form of artistic expression and there wasn’t a single word of dialogue in that segment. I never thought I would review something with ballet again like when I covered Only When I Dance, but this was handled very well. There were other amazing forms of symbolism like the Reflection segment where a white dancer doesn’t move her lips, but her narration was in the background like one giant intellectual monologue. Some other great examples include Paloma Davis’s character playing a Black immigrant to England and how there are jump cuts of her wearing different fancy outfits as she balks at how some British people thought she grew up in a mud hut. That was very creative with an editing and storytelling standpoint. The Friendship segment was a great example of interracial friendship (obviously)/allyship with the alternating dialogue and the realistic depictions of growing up with their respective races. Side note: This segment alone would make One pass the Bechdel Test given how it involves two women and their dialogue doesn’t involve male characters. Sometimes the message does come off as a needed truth bomb and the biggest example was the Beauty segment where a Black actress rants about how a white man told her she was “pretty for a Black girl” where she brutally deconstructs that backhanded compliment, exposes that dog whistle, calling out Eurocentric beauty standards, and wonders why she “passed the test” in his eyes. They pulled no punches with that one and while it was more direct, that message had to be said. In addition to the experimental production and takes on the stories, the music was good with symphonic pieces, ambient works, chillwave, and even Afrobeats at one point. Those were all pleasant pieces of music.
One: A Contemporary Artistic Exploration of Race does struggle at different places. The music and sound design were all creative which I won’t knock, but there were a couple cases where the soundtrack overpowered the actors projecting their lines. I really noticed it during the final moments of the Beauty segment where I couldn’t catch all the words the actress said. It did undercut that segment a bit because she was getting very passionate while breaking down that case of covert racism against her. The sounds and music were great, but they could’ve turned it down at certain points of the film. I was a bit curious about the Invitation segment. The plant set design was fine, the choreography synched with the environment, and the Afrobeats tune was fun, but I didn’t know what they were going for with the message in this part of One. The anti-racism messages were certainly needed and portrayed in believable ways, but there were moments when the dialogue was a bit too didactic. I certainly support the message, but it could’ve been worded differently at times and not always rely on direct dialogue at every point. One of the biggest examples was Resilience. The imagery, choreography, and usage of news audio worked well, but the phoenix metaphors were basic in the narration. Also, Resilience was the only segment that involved a man in it. I know I brought up the Bechdel Test earlier in this review and I do commend them on this, but I can see how some viewers could find it to be imbalanced from a gender perspective which some people could interpret it as men not having as bad of a racist experience which is entirely not true. Those were some things I noticed when it came to the shortcomings of this work.
This short film from Yellow Box Theatre was a treat to watch. There was an ample amount of creativity on display and the acting worked very well for this piece. The anti-racism messages were powerful even if some of the phrasing was too direct at times. I can tell a lot of effort was put into this production and the heart was in the right place here with the diverse cast and socially conscious overtones. One is a wonderful work and I would strongly recommend anyone to watch this if they have a spare half-hour or so.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you like experimental theatre.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like theatrical works.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you don’t feel comfortable about overt messages about race relations.
-Amazing cinematography and video editing
-Anti-racism messages were creative and realistic
-Some of the messages can be too direct
-Background music and sound design can overpower actors at times
-Invitation was a bit muddled with the meaning
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Advisory: One: A Contemporary Artistic Expression of Race is safe for most audiences. The concept of race is a big role in both overt and covert ways. Some topics can be a bit more complex like dog whistles, beauty standards, immigration, and white privilege with the last example being done in a subtle way.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. One: A Contemporary Exploration of Race is property of Yellow Box Theatre. The screenshots are from YouTube and is property of Yellow Box Theatre. The poster is from Yellow Box Theatre and is property of Yellow Box Tehatre.