88: The Roots of Racism

88 tells the story of Femi Jackson (Brandon Victor Dixon), the financial director for a democratic super PAC during the 2024 US Elections. Jackson and his team are in support of Harold Roundtree (Orlando Jones), the presidential frontrunner and next great hope for the nation. However, as Jackson delves more deeply into the donations they’re receiving, he uncovers a conspiracy that exposes the evils of racism that stain the roots of American politics.

Written and directed by Eromose, 88 is an intriguing film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Influenced by films like The Manchurian Candidate, Eromose unravels the complexities of the American political system by exploring the undergirding toxicity of racism. This is a film that wants to reach down to the very depths of American history, exposing the broken pillars and their racist intent that the system was built upon. And, for the most part, the film achieves its goals. Conversations are open, honest and messy, ranging from bias within the banking system to Nazi influences within the election process. 

What’s more, while performances within the film are good, perhaps the best moments come from Jones’s frontrunner candidate and his interviewer, played by William Fichtner. With their Frost/Nixon-esque banter, Jones and Fichtner provide some of the film’s best moments. As he attempts to expose irregularities within his campaign, Fichtner’s no-nonsense reporter seems focused and stable. Meanwhile, Jones’ presidential hopeful plays his cards close to his vest. In a muted performance, the normally outlandish Jones is fascinating as the stone-faced politician, playing with truth to suit his motivations. Although other characters play their roles well, these moments are the ones that seem to resonate most memorably.

What’s interesting about 88 is that its flaw may also serve as its strength. Admittedly, while the content is essential, Eromose writes his dialogue in a thinly veiled manner. There’s an obvious nature to the writing that cuts right to the heart of the matter. While it makes for interesting content, this style also struggles with nuance or subtly.

But, for Eromose, that’s exactly the point. 

Instead of tip-toeing around difficult issues, he has stated that his desire for these conversations was to make them as open as possible. To him, discussions on race need to be blunt and honest and he chooses to make use of that within his writing. Admittedly, knowing that this was always his intent somehow makes these moments feel less forced in its dialogue. Frankly, it changes the meaning of the moment. Because of his candid writing, Eromose helps create moments that are worth discussing after the credits roll. Discussions about supporting ex-cons, racial history and social inequality are all addressed, allowing the viewer the opportunity to wrestle with their reality after the credits roll. (Even the importance of Marvel’s Black Panther is left open for discussion.)

88 attempts to pull the blinders off of issues that remain only discussed on the sidelines. In doing so, Eromose’s film shows its intent: this is a film that wants to have accessible conversations about difficult issues in order to bring change. (“It’s good to remember where you come from so you never go back,” one particularly unseemly character suggests.) By bringing these issues into the light, Eromose’s deepest hope is that they might be properly examined so a new course can be charted. 

Admittedly, this style of writing might not be for everyone, but Eromose’s candid nature is definitely appreciated. His desire to create safe spaces for difficult conversations is earnest and welcome. 88 isn’t always subtle in its approach but it also shows that, sometimes, we shouldn’t be either.

88 is available in theatres on Friday, March 24th, 2023.

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