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Last week, we shared the controversial film, ‘The Strange Thing That Happened to the Johnsons,’ which took an old story–family secrets–and turned it on its head (if you missed it, watch it here).

After viewing the film, many of you had questions, namely why the director chose an all-Black cast for the short film. Some of you felt the filmmaker used an all-Black cast to play on old stereotypes about Black masculinity, while others found it refreshing to see Black actors in roles that had little to do with race.

Over the weekend, film blog Shadow & Act caught up with Ari Aster, the director of the film, and got answers to many of your pressing questions.

According to Aster, the idea for the film stemmed from a conversation with his friend (the actor who played the son in the film). After throwing around ideas, they decided to make a film about a topic many would see as unrealistic–a child abusing a parent. Once the idea was set, Aster went about casting the film.

So why did Aster decide to use an all-Black cast? Apparently, the choice to use Black actors wasn’t “deep” or profound. Like many things, it came down to working with people you already know.

“The actor who plays the son is a close friend who’s starred in most of my films (including all of my pre-AFI student work) and he was there from the film’s conception. I cast him because he was right for the role and I wanted to work with him,” Aster told Shadow & Act. “At that point it was obvious that we were casting African Americans. The color of the Johnson family’s skin is totally incidental. It’s of no consequence to the story or its execution.”

One of the main critiques many of you had stemmed from the choice to depict such disturbing events with a Black cast. Many of you wondered if the director chose to use Black actors for shock value, but according to Aster, the actors’ color had little to do with the film’s theme.

“Again, the color of the family isn’t important. We certainly assumed that casting black actors in a film that tackles such transgressive themes would create something of a stir, and it would be a lie to say that we weren’t hesitant, especially as many people were advising us against the decision” Aster explained. “But the longer the dialogue continued about whether it was okay to cast the way we wanted to (without making a discernible statement on race), the more exciting that argument became. There is no intended commentary on the black experience and I would never claim to have any insight into that.”

Aside from race, another sticking point many of you raised was whether or not Aster intended for the film to be a “dark comedy” or a serious drama. Aster, who said he wanted to make a “compelling, visceral and unique” film wondered why he had to choose between the two.

“Why not both? I see the film as a satire of the domestic melodrama (a la Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray), so it draws more from movie clichés and genre tropes, especially from films dealing with abuse or family dysfunction, than it does real life. But it was a challenge for us (and something that we always kept in mind) to transcend the absurdity of the premise and to actually consider the implications of such a thing. In a lot ways the film serves as a nightmarish cautionary tale on liberal parenting, a sort of worst-case scenario for a father who’s granted his son too much freedom and respect, but there’s also the suggestion of culpability on the father’s part, so the film skips a lot of the causes and focuses primarily on the effects of an insidious, inverted dynamic.”

What do you think of Ari Aster’s explanation of the film? Does it change your previous views? 

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  • TINA ANDREWS

    THIIS SHORT FILM WAS TOTALLY GROSS,SHOULD HAVE NEVER MADE IT THIS FAR WHER PEOPLE WOULD VIEW SUCH A THING. I WAS TOTALLY MAD AND ANGRY, BECAUSE THE WORLD IS JUST F…… UP AND THERE IS TO MUCH CORRUPTION,LOOK AROUND NOTHING IS THE NORM ANY MORE WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON,I HOPE THIS FILM IS NOT VIEWED BY ANY KIDS,I THINK YOU ARI WAS MOLESTED BY SOMEONE OR YOUR FRIEND DID IT TO YOU,YOUR A SICK F….., MAN.