BBC iPlayer review: ear for eye
Ivan Radford | On 17, Oct 2021
ear for eye premiered at the London Film Festival on Saturday 16th October 2021 and simultaneously aired on BBC Two.
“Give me a reason to not…” demands a young American (Doctor Who’s Tosin Cole) amid a heated debate with a father figure (Danny Sapani) early on in debbie tucker green’s ear for eye, as the boy runs out of patience in pushing for change. Sapani’s seasoned civil rights campaigner argues for patience when it comes to progress, but Cole’s activist wants change now. That distinction between advancement and transformation is just one of the fascinating dichotomies being explored in debbie tucker green’s phenomenal film, which dissects and discusses the nuances between direct and indirect action, between personal incidents and systemic inequalities, between past atrocities and modern horrors. It’s a montage of Black voices and experiences that resounds with clarity and purpose.
Based on her 2018 stage production from the Royal Court theatre, this filmed adaptation studiously avoids the feel of a theatrical project by stripping away the stage so that all is left is a shadowy void within which we encounter each face and story. That not only makes for a visually stylish experience, as minimal props accompany each new set of characters, but also allows us to hop from one side of the Atlantic to another seamlessly, giving this string of seemingly standalone situations a global scale that carries a connected weight and a dizzying immediacy.
Cole and Sapani’s dialogue is followed by a superbly spiky confrontation between a passionate student (an electric Lashana Lynch) and her patronising white professor (Demetri Goritsas), as they talk about a school shooting – a scorchingly tense exchange that examines the way that the professor falls back on excuses such as “lone wolf” and weaponises labels to avoid considering the wider social and political picture.
Just like Cole’s activist, whose plea is left hanging in the air, incomplete, what’s not said here is as important as what is; debbie tucker green’s way with words is as razor-sharp as ever, capable of carving up double standards, unspoken taboos and individual and institutional prejudices in a way that’s poetic, pointed and thrillingly spontaneous. The first section (of three) finds impact in just single, hard-hitting adjectives, as two parents instruct their son (Arinzé Kene) about how to carry himself when being stopped by the police. Hands out? Aggressive. Hands in his pockets? Belligerent. And so it goes.
The play’s strength lies in the physicality of the production too, from the way the camera chooses what to show and what not to show on screen to the ensemble choreography that brings the company together for a rousing, haunting climax. The final sequence involves people reading out old racist laws from US history, and ear for eye knows it doesn’t have to spell out their significance today – it’s a cumulative performance piece, one that builds on the people and struggles of decades gone by to chart the changes that have happened (or not happened) from “before”, as one elderly lady (Carmen Munroe) recites. The result is a remarkable, forceful, lyrical triumph, a colossal tapestry of intergenerational progress and conflict that’s rooted in the smallest of gestures, words and details. Driven forward by a soundtrack that includes FKA Twigs and Kano, it’s a powerful, unique piece of cinema. There’s no reason not to watch it.
ear for eye is available on BBC iPlayer until September 2022