The 40-Year-Old Version was selected for the 2020 Sundance Festival. The movie has also won a directing award this year. The movie is written and produced by Radha Blank and Lena Waithe and is distributed by Netflix. It was released on the streaming platform in October 2020. The 40-Year-Old Version is a unique visual experience. The story takes place in New York, particularly in Harlem. Radha is a young 40 year old woman. Throughout the movie, we watch her troubles and doubts on her current life : from her friends to her playwright career, and her love life to her mom’s death. This article, as usual, will be divided in different parts.
THE FEAR OF AGING
Being in your 40’s is an idea frequently discussed in movies, especially in comedies and tv shows. The movie title is also a reference to the famous movie the 40-Year-Old Virgin. So, it’s not incorrect to say that Radha’s age might be the epitome of the movie. By trying to get into hip hop again, Radha tried to catch this part of her old life : the part that she was able to control and materialize. Radha was trying to resurrect a part of her which allows her to focus and reassemble her thoughts and emotions. Rap and hip hop were more than that, they were cathartic : she used them as the basis of her psychoanalysis. It has clearly marked her universe, a changing more commonly known as the « midlife crisis ». Her self exploration between different types of art is also an example of the crisis she is going through. This multi hyphenated person is kind of typical in movies, personifying the disillusion of a midlife crisis. And Radha has impersonated this part clearly : black artists sometimes have to sell their integrity and principles to live and create. Radha was asking everybody around her, from her neighbors to her students, existential questions. It was an intergenerational testimony about her city and about herself.
THE GENTRIFICATION PLAY
The movie and so the writer and producer are clearly denouncing New York’s gentrification. As a hip hop lover, I have been to New York last year and no, it doesn’t look like a Nas or ATCQ music video, at all. It’s a surprise for nobody. Brooklyn and Harlem are mutating. Gentrification, as I explained it in my article on the movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco , is partly one of the main problems of Radha : as she is trying to understand herself, everything has changed around her, her entire world. And as Radha couldn’t find her true self, her creativity and playwriting have been compromised. First, her play is produced and directed by a rich old white man, « unconsciously » racist, who obviously thinks, he knows her experience as a black person better than her (like it totally makes sense duh). Radha has to lower her guard to preserve her artistic side. One of the best example is the first rehearsal of her play : one of the actress, a black woman, asks Radha why she is talking like « the angry black girl ». Radha couldn’t even explain her own script and her characters. This glimpse of incomprehension enlightens her own confusion about her art and where she is.
She wanted to distance herself from what she really loves « telling the truth », but she couldn’t. When her best friend tells her she is a sell out, she runs away. Radha has become what she hates. She embraced her criticism of Harlem gentrification by selling it to the gentrifiers themselves. When her director M.Whitman, suggests her to personify the gentrification into a white person and specifically into a white woman, it actually gives us an example of American society and its lively racism. The director couldn’t accept to financially contribute to a play which criticized him for being a racist in disguise. The director and the producer were projecting what they thought being black was, in Radha. From those racially motivated micro aggressions to the white savior trope, the movie incarnates a percutaneous critic of being a black artist today : to stay relevant and independent, you have to rise and struggle.
THE BLACK AND WHITE FILTER SYMBOLIC
The black and white filter reminds us that Radha is reminiscing on her life and mostly, on her past. She is not quite sure yet of who she wants to be. In art, by mixing black and white together, we get the color grey : a monochromatic area, where nothing grows and flourishes, a lost zone where we navigate in an unsure space of our mind and individuality. Still, this grey area is also a comfort zone, where we allow ourselves to suffer, think, dream and escape. It’s a non existential dimension that will end one day but we don’t know how and when. At the end, talking with D (played by Oswin Benjamin), her producer/friend/partner, the black and white filter disappears : maybe it signifies the end of Radha‘s episode of depression and indecision. By walking with this younger man, her self love is coming back, so is her recklessness. Radha has finally found her voice, her confidence and her inner freedom.
Finally, the movie which is autobiographical, honors the mother and daughter relationship. Radha loved and admired her mother. Her lost of confidence shows it. She wasn’t allowed to grief, relax in peace : she was requested by the whole world. This « strong black woman » trope is commonly accepted and perpetuated : black women have to continue to live despite their tiredness, failures, personal issues, as they naturally have to be stronger than everybody else. And to conclude, Radha had one time laughed about not being a mom, which echoes a lot. But we can clearly see that she is teaching and nurturing her students like her own children. Being a parent is foremost about giving love, teaching about self respect, being confident and raising a person by giving her/him the keys to conquer this ill world with his/her own identity.
The 40-Year-Old version was personally one of the best thing that I saw. I know for sure that the hip hop songs helped a lot with my comprehension and my attention, as they are essential to Radha, they can be essential to a lot of viewers. The 40-Year-Old version is a big visual testament about life lessons and our life choices. It’s modern, conflicts the past and the present to welcome a greater future.
You can watch The 40-Year-Old version on Netflix.
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