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How The Obituary of Tunde Johnson Finds Queer Joy Amidst So Much Trauma

How 'The Obituary of Tunde Johnson' Finds Queer Joy Amidst Trauma

How 'The Obituary of Tunde Johnson' Finds Queer Joy Amidst Trauma

PRIDE chats with screenwriter Stanley Kalu and actors Spencer Neville and Joey Pollari about the importance of their queer time-loop drama.

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Directed by Ali LeRoi from a screenplay by Stanley Kalu, Wolfe Releasing's latest queer, coming-of-age drama The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is giving us a look at what living in a time loop would be like, but if everything in life was taking a turn for the worse. 

Exploring the intersections of what it's like to be gay and Black in America, the film tells the story of Nigerian-American high school student Tunde Johnson (Steven Silver) as he inexplicably is forced to relive the same day over and over again after dying at the hands of racist police officers. Despite all of the trauma he goes through, the film does show a lot of the everyday happiness and joys in Tunde's life, particularly when it comes to being able to happily come out as gay to his parents and in the times he gets to spend with his popular-but-closeted jock boyfriend Soren (Spencer Neville). 

PRIDE got to sit down with Tunde Johnson screenwriter Stanley Kalu as well as two of the film's stars, Spencer Neville and Joey Pollari, to talk about the importance of balancing important, timely messages about brutality, racism, and homophobia with moments of joy in life, especially when it comes to depictions of queer people of color on-screen.

"When dealing with films about Black trauma, oftentimes the entire movie centers exclusively on that to the point that it can become pornographic to me. I think it was really vital to showcase Black life and Black joy against that because that is the reality," Kalu told PRIDE when asked about writing the film. "Being Black in America is a traumatic experience on a day-to-day basis, but that does not mean that life isn't joyful. It does not mean that you do not fall in love. It does not mean that you do not have moments of levity with your friends. It does not mean that fun can not happen. So I just wanted to be really careful to highlight that you know, the majority of the film is actually about a young man's life."

"When I finally saw the full product after reading Stanley's script and being a part of it and seeing the full picture, I was really blown away by the way it sets up, as Stanley was saying, the life that surrounds this trauma," Pollari (who plays Soren's friend and Tunde's bully Charlie in the film) added. "Watching the movie and being a part of it and walking away from it, it was sort of this understanding of the way that identities are compounded and taken away by state-sponsored violence, by these police officers. And it gave me a greater understanding of that. There's a whole life and identity beyond just these statistics and names, etc. There are lives there, and that's what we have to focus on."

"The movie has a lot going on, but I think the heart of it lies in their relationship and it's their coming-out story," Neville told PRIDE about what drew him to Kalu's script. "It just so happens that we're in a time loop that involves police brutality and racism and drug addiction and mental health issues and LGBTQ+ acceptance and all these things. But the heart of it really to me is, and through my lens of being the other character, it's kind of our love story."

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is in theaters and available on-demand now! 

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Raffy Ermac

Digital Director, Out.com

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and digital director of Out Magazine. The former editor-in-chief of PRIDE, he is also a die-hard Rihanna and Sailor Moon stan who loves to write about all things pop culture, entertainment, and identities. Follow him on Instagram (@raffyermac) and Twitter (@byraffy), and subscribe to his YouTube channel

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and digital director of Out Magazine. The former editor-in-chief of PRIDE, he is also a die-hard Rihanna and Sailor Moon stan who loves to write about all things pop culture, entertainment, and identities. Follow him on Instagram (@raffyermac) and Twitter (@byraffy), and subscribe to his YouTube channel