30 Jun 2022
Content advisory warning – This film contains racist and explicit language throughout
It is a difficult thing to imagine or understand what film-maker Austin Jones was trying to do or trying to say when he came up with the idea of filming Coonland. The name itself is immediately offensive and sets out Jones' stall completely as someone who is not thinking clearly as he goes about creating and expressing himself through his 'art'.
It is very telling that one of Jones' adverts for cast members can be found on Callboard, asking for a 'caucasian female' who was slated to play the lead and a 'white guy' to play his best friend, and judging by the finished product he found no-one willing to join him on his venture. Part of this could be due to his unwillingness to pay his performers any money, but frankly it was more likely down to his tone deaf title, themes and script (if indeed there was one).
What we're presented with then is a one man show with Jones (at least I assume it's him as there's no credits to tell us otherwise), an American black man, spending his entire time in front of the camera in the corner of a room talking to an antagonistic voice which is presumably in his head. For the full one hour duration of the film Jones stays in that same corner, talking to that same voice and basically saying the same things over and over. Meanwhile, the camera doesn't move.
The film is shot in black and white, which was most likely an 'artistic' decision, and probably has something to say about race that again Jones isn't expressing clearly. Most of the dialogue also centres around race, with the voice picking apart the decisions Jones has made in his life recently and shining them through this prism – mostly resulting in it calling him the N-word. The other racist epithet which appears in the title also makes an appearance and while we may be used to certain films, songs and video games showing black on black use of these words, here it seems badly considered and tinged with a touch of glee from Jones that he gets to say what he likes.
This all continues for the full hour with Jones coming back time and time again to the same lines, questioning who or what the voice is and protesting that he isn't what the voice says he is. Everything becomes very repetitive with the voice even telling Jones at points that he is 'going round in circles' and 'just saying random things', which is the most insight offered in the entirety of the film.
If any analysis might be given it could be said that Jones is saying something about what it is to be a black man in America, with the voice playing the part either of the black community or American society more generally. However, the performance is so dire and the dialogue so raw and dry that it is impossible to tell if this is actually the case.
The film is actually more of a stage play than anything else and if Jones ever tried to put this one man show on at the Edinburgh Fringe he would probably find that his entire audience had left less than ten minutes into the performance. That is if anyone turned up at all to his severely badly titled show. As it is it remains an eccentricity and an oddity and hopefully will stay where it belongs – in obscurity.