The short film Mulignans opens in an homage to stereotypical Italian film gangsters. Three black men sit on the stoop of a Brooklyn Brownstone. They smoke cigarettes, file their nails and lie back in the sun, only diverting their attention to blow kisses to and catcall passing women.
But, between insults and puffs of cigarette smoke, the film’s director, Shaka King ’01, explores themes like race, city life and gentrification. Mulignans debuted this year at Sundance to rave reviews and quickly racked up tens of thousands of online views.
“The whole thing about it was that it had to be funny and it had to cross a line. It had to actually be offensive,” said King in an interview with WatchLOUD. He will be on campus moderating a discussion and screening the film alongside Newlyweeds, his first feature-length film.
The current Chair of Vice Film, Imara Jones ’16, explained, “the event is in Rocky 200 on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 3:30.”
According to Jones, the screening is Vice Film’s kick-off event of the year and signals a shift in content the group is bringing to campus.
King graduated from Vassar in 2001 before heading off to Tisch for graduate school. His work since includes both short and feature films, a project with Russell Simmons and HBO, and more. His feature film, Newlyweeds, was released in 2013 and met with overall positive reviews.
The film is about Lyle and Nina, a couple who love each other almost as much as they love weed. Part comedy, part cautionary tale, King explores the trials and tribulations associated with drug use and life and love in New York City. Similar themes find their way to King’s other works. He describes Mulignans as a racial satire. The 5-minute film, which King also stars in, tackles serious topics and still finds room for a little humor
Sophie Cash ’19 is a fan of King and plans on attending the screening. In an emailed statement, she mentioned the untraditional way King took on such polarizing topics in Mulignans. She explained, “I thought it handled the issue of race in a very interesting and unusual way…I’m not used to seeing stereotypes portrayed in such exaggerated bluntness, and I think King’s brave depiction of these characters, since he is a black man himself, puts a very unique and personal perspective into the conversation about race.”
Jones explained some of the motivation behind bringing King to campus, “I’m really excited because I not only just want to meet him but I also want to hear what he has to say about navigating the film industry A) as a black man and B) as a young black man and Vassar grad.”
Cash also noted the importance of bringing alumni back to campus. She explained, “Talking with alumni is a great way for current students to get an idea of where they can go and what they can be after their education at Vassar. I think it can be inspiring for students to learn about the different career paths that former students have blazed, or lives they have chosen.”
King explores many of the issues debated on campus through his film. “I’m fascinated to learn about how his time at Vassar kind of inspired him to pick a direction with his filmic content,” explained Jones. King’s connection to Vassar has logistical benefits as well. Jones explained, “It’s also coincidental that this event lined up the way it did because he’s already going to be on campus for another event. It was just a luck-of-the-draw kind of thing.”
The event marks what Jones hopes to be a shift in the content Vice Film brings to campus this year. According to Jones, “In the past couple years, it’s been mostly big name screenings, like blockbusters and Oscar movies, but this year I want to make sure we are a lot more careful with the content we are bringing to campus in terms of diversifying our palate. We don’t want just one small community coming to our events.
She continued, “My biggest goal was to start off the year with something that is a little less mainstream and that can speak to a wide variety of people on many levels.”
Ideas like these drove Jones to apply to Vice’s Exec Board. Towards the end of last year, she says she had so many ideas that she decided to take the first step towards putting them in place. Among these ideas was a shift in focus from longer feature length films to something more accessible to students who do not necessarily have the several hours needed to spare at typical screenings. She elaborated, “in the past years, Vice Film has mostly been feature length films but this year, in order to maintain a large party or slew of people, I’m going to try and focus on more videos and short films, not necessarily feature length films. It’s going to be fun.”
King seemed like a natural fit for the first event. His controversial themes, diverse pieces and Vassar experiences bring a combination of comedy and commentary to campus. His budding popularity also makes him a prime example of what Vice Film is trying to focus on this year.
After the Saturday event, Jones says she has plenty more ideas for the club. But the content will largely be up to Vice Film’s members and the rest of the student body.
“I’m really excited to get people to come to the meetings and hear what they want. I think that’s the key to a successful entertainment group, knowing your audience and knowing what they want. I think that’s certainly going to be a huge driving force in who we choose to bring to campus,” she explained.