LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Emergency begins like any coming-of-age buddy comedy. But its young heroes’ night of party-hopping hi-jinks quickly takes a more serious and sinister turn – in large part because they are Black.
Unlike characters from genre classics like Superbad who emerge unscathed from playful interactions with bemused cops, college students Sean and Kunle panic when they find a high-school girl passed out on their living room floor.
Fearing what might happen if they dial 911 in such a compromising scenario, they rope Latino housemate Carlos into helping ferry her to a hospital, setting off a series of hilarious and terrifying consequences.
“It seems like it’s gonna be a Superbad or a Booksmart type of movie – I feel like even the characters want this so badly to be like a teen comedy,” the movie’s writer KD Davila told AFP. “They want it to be that, but it’s not, it can’t be.”
“Which is the tragic, bitter reality of what it’s like for a lot of people,” agreed director Carey Williams.
At the heart of Emergency, out on Amazon Prime Video next week, is the constant and everyday burden placed on young men of colour whom society is quick to perceive as a threat.
Growing up, Davila said she “saw this phenomenon where my dad and other men in my family, especially the ones who were darker skinned, had to do this strange calculation every time we went anywhere, (of) considering how they’re being perceived”.
“You can make those calculations and you can do your best to project ‘innocence’ or whatever. But it doesn’t matter sometimes. You can still get pulled over and searched for no reason.”
Davila and Williams turned those observations into a short film, winning awards at festivals, before Amazon and a cast including pop star Sabrina Carpenter came aboard for the feature-length version.
The filmmakers said they did not set out to preach about race. Instead, Emergency was made “for people who’ve been through this, who’ve been living in this culture of fear”, Davila said. “Hopefully, the movie is cathartic and funny to people who’ve been through that. That’s the thing that might be a little different in our approach than other movies.”
Clean-cut and trusting Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) doesn’t initially feel he is treated any differently due to his skin colour, while cocky and macho Sean (RJ Cyler) has had a fear of authority seemingly drilled into him by lived experience.
This contrast leads to the pair making very different choices over the course of the night – each of which Williams hopes the audience can empathise with.