There’s a particular scene in A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., directed by Qasim Basir (who also directed Mooz-lum), where Cass (Omari Hardwick) has an all-too-familiar run-in with the police. Without going into too much detail, the interaction leaves Cass broken, with only Frida (Meagan Good) there to pick up the pieces. In a film that has no cutaways, the camera lingers on Cass as he processes what has just taken place. It’s arguably one of Hardwick’s most powerful performances that will certainly resonate with those who have had a similar encounter with police.
“One of the first things I said when I saw that particular scene was how powerful it was in the aftermath,” Jay Ellis tells The Root shortly after the film premiered to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this week.
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. follows Cass and Frida as the two meet on the evening of the 2016 election. Cass is a USC graduate who leaves his directorial dreams behind for the enchanting world of club promoting, while Frida is an attorney who happens to blow into town on this fateful evening. The two argue, share intimate moments and challenge each other as the film never cuts away, which forces us to witness their every thought and emotion.
“The film is basically a look at what it’s like to be a black man and a black woman in 2018,” says the film’s producer Datari Turner (Gook, Video Girl, 9 Rides, Growing Up Hip Hop). “We, as black people, have to wear so many different armors out in the world.”
That complexity is what A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. aims to capture in this slice-of-life film that takes place in Los Angeles. The long night of events pushes and pulls at Frida and Cass’ tedious relationship as the election results are playing out in the background. But there’s also a fog of hopelessness and despair that infects everything around them as the night progresses.
It’s notable that Basir manages to capture that growing absence of hope with his lens while the writing—handled by Basir and Samantha Tanner—bobs and weaves through the election night results. At times, Frida and Cass are so caught up in the potential of a relationship that they nearly forget about the politics. But each alert that Trump has won another state brings them crashing down to reality.
“Conflict is everything,” Basir says. “That election affected us all so deeply. The energy just doesn’t go away. It’s trauma that we’ve experienced through our life that we just walk around with and not deal with it. What the election did to us is forced us to do something. We needed to put something out there that says love and dreams win in the face of fear.”
Scenes such as the aftermath of Cass’ run-in with the police linger as Hardwick carries every emotion from anger to defeat while Frida does her best to provide support for this stranger she only met a few hours ago. And it’s only compounded as Donald Trump (whose name is purposely never spoken in the film) inches toward victory.
“As women we are nurturers, protectors and backbones,” Good says in relation to her character. “For her it was really about seeing him get broken and this is often the state of what’s happening in our world every single day. It was very much about how can she let him know that he’s not alone in this world.”
At times, the film feels almost too on the nose with the happenings on this one fateful night. It’s a very dialogue-heavy affair, and while some of these interactions between Cass and Frida are beautifully played, others feel entirely too unnatural and artificially placed. It’s almost as if there were certain bullet points that needed to be hit before the film pushed to its finish. Nevertheless, the film’s sweet spot is hit whenever the two characters challenge each other to chase their dreams despite the harrowing future of a Trump-led America.
“At the core, the story is about love and dreams,” Turner says. “I read an article that 8 percent of people in our country are actually doing what they love to do. That’s a very low number. Especially when you consider that black people have been underdogs their entire lives.”
The performances from Hardwick and Good are solid. But the beauty often lies in what isn’t said rather than what is spoken. And Hardwick nails this especially well.
“I don’t often get to show that kind of vulnerability,” Hardwick explains. “I try to bring as much as I can to Ghost in Power. I made him a doting father as much as I can. But there’s another level of vulnerability that I’m showing in this movie.”
The singular continuous take gives the film a theatrical feel as either Hardwick or Good occupies the screen for the entirety of the movie. Jay Ellis (Insecure) also appears as Cass’ buddy in the club-promotion business but is far more carefree than his partner. Although his appearances are brief, Ellis appreciates the opportunity to play alongside Hardwick and Good simply to enjoy their performances in this unique film.
“From the acting side of it, this is why we do it,” Ellis explains. “Those moments where you are so connected with somebody and not connected are interesting. Those moments that you see in this film are very precious.”
It’s not perfect, but A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. is a timely piece worth watching for the conversations that will surely develop from the viewing experience.