Curated by Tribeca Film Festival, short film When I Write It situates two Oakland teens (Leila Mottley and Ajai Kasim) exploring what it means to be young, Black and committed to making art in their rapidly changing city. This raw and real day-in-the-life captures two young people coming together and creating projects that they feel real passion for, as though we the audience are watching it happen in real time.
Words create the shape of this film and their power is highlighted in the music that these characters make. Music allows them to come together and create sound that is full of soul and emotion, which only adds more power to the script. The consistent sharing of ideas, sounds and literature that is full of emotional and political power throughout the short displays how what they read informs their creativity. Passion leaks through the screen and allows the audience to immerse themselves in it fully.
Leila and Ajai have a wonderfully sweet chemistry that is joyous to watch and as a viewer, you can’t help but smile as you listen to their exchange of stories. Both are on the cusp of adulthood as they enjoy their last summer before going to college. They anticipate their future as young Black artists in a city that is gentrifying around them, as well as looking at how the world is evolving.
The individual intimacy and vulnerability that they both share with each other, and indeed the audience, is breath-taking. Their brilliant ‘overheard dialogue’ allows them to share stories and feelings about real situations that they have experienced with love and sexuality. In particular, their discussion over what they think is and isn’t political when writing and speaking about race is poignant to watch.
These conversations feel so real it’s like the camera isn’t even there. Watching is like watching the writing process lived out, as both Leila and Ajai want to live and experience life in real time to inform their writing. The audience gets to view this in the way that the film is shot, as the simplicity of the cinematography exists to emphasise the power in what they are saying. The colour grading looks warm and the snapshot-style editing makes the tone feel real and uplifting.
Ultimately, both want to highlight how their community is changing around them, amongst the gentrification, and how they want to preserve black culture for the generation after them. The end of the film is so fitting in this way, as they are sharing their music and words with young people and the audience can see them becoming inspired too. It is so uplifting to watch these young people wanting to continuously find new ways to keep expressing themselves and keep their culture away. This story feels warm and most importantly, it feels hopeful.
This is an excellent example of modern film-making at its best. It is sharp, sensitive and sweet, whilst also providing its audience with a strong social message. UK audiences can learn a lot from this film, especially given all that has happened in recent weeks. We as an audience have a responsibility to share films and stories like this now more than ever.
When I Write It is currently available to watch on YouTube, as part of the We Are One Film Festival.
This review will be shared on UK Film Review's social media sites with some resources on how to support Black lives in the wake of the protests in America. Please do have a look and support in any way you can.