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Doing the Right Thing

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Emergency (2022)

“Emergency” is one of those one-crazy-night movies (“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” “Superbad,” “Dazed and Confused” et al.), about two college kids attempting to make history as the first Black students ever to complete a tour of every Greek party on campus in one evening – but the plan derails with their discovery of an unknown white girl passed out in their living room. They try to do the right thing and get her help, mindful that they are risking their lives because of the optics – strangers presume their guilt in this scenario based on skin color. Indeed, this well-trodden trope takes on a sense of somberness and urgency in the age of Black Lives Matter.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) is a strait-laced second-gen immigrant who’ll soon be doing postgrad at Princeton. Sean (RJ Cyler), his best friend, invests way more in the party tour as it’s his only shot at making a campus Black trailblazers hall of fame. Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), their Latino roommate, is an oblivious gamer. Upon finding the wasted Emma (Maddie Nichols), they decide against calling 911 – the rationale being that responders will likely shoot first and ask questions later – and are all in favor dropping her off at the emergency room. With Sean driving drunk, a roadside sobriety check and a broken taillight prompt them to take the long road. Emma’s sister, Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter), is frantically looking for her by tracking her phone’s GPS. Of course, the cops are called. No good deed goes unpunished.

“Emergency” and fellow Sundance entry “Master” both tackle institutionalized racism on college campuses. While “Master” can be described as a supercut of Microaggression’s Greatest Hits, it barely scratches the surface of racial profiling. “Emergency” more pointedly confronts the phenomenon’s potentially deadly consequences, manifested in the real-life killings of Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. While “Master” opts for a copout by blaming the literal bogeyman, “Emergency” reflects the terrifying reality of living while Black. Even though the film, written by K. D. Dávila (2022 Oscar nominee in the Short Film-Live Action category) and directed by Carey Williams, occasionally succumbs to conventional set pieces, we are constantly aware of the larger social dialogue it’s trying to engage, whereas “Master” reduces itself to a genre exercise and an unsuccessful one at that. Both films can be triggering for people of color, but “Emergency” at least has a sense of humor about it without cheapening or compromising the seriousness of its subject matter.


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