The Strange Things About the Johnsons

By Sandra Glover

The highly controversial short film “The Strange Things About the Johnsons” has caused an internet frenzy.

The short film debuted in 2011 at the Slam Dance Film Festival, but recently it has been the topic of every Twitter feed, with memes circulating and Facebook discussions blowing up.

The storyline follows the Johnsons, an upper-middle class African-American family. Sydney Johnson, the father and husband, is a well-known author. Joan Johnson, his wife, is a housewife. Their son Isaiah is a charming young man who just recently wed a beautiful young woman. On the outside the Johnsons look like the perfect family, but looks can be very deceiving.

The film opens with a 12-years-old Isaiah masturbating to a picture of his father. This scene marks the beginning of a strange sexual attraction that Isaiah has toward his father Sidney.

As the movie progresses, the viewer witnesses the years of sexual abuse that Sidney faces at the hands of his son and devastating effects it has on the entire family.

The mother, Joan is aware of strange father and son relationship but blocks it out. Her failure to acknowledge the situation leaves her husband feeling trapped which leads to his untimely death and his confessional manuscript.

The film ends with the Joan killing her son Isaiah as he confesses the extent of his and his father’s “love.”

The film has face criticism not only for the conversional father and son relationship but the overall image of black men in the media.

Isaiah depicts how the media views Black men, as forceful and dominant. Birth of a Nation (1915) displayed similar portrayals of Blacks as “hypersexualized black men or as murderous rapists who carry out several horrifying deeds”.

While the father is the opposite of the portrayal of Black men, Sidney is  very submissive like how Blacks are supposed to act.

MissSeptember the host of “Savage Life,” a popular podcast, stated her initial thoughts when she saw the opening scene, “I immediately thought that the father was explaining to his son that masturbating is a natural thing, however as the father starts to use excessive wording then it started to make it weird.”

Who is the mastermind behind this strange controversial film? Ari Aster, who was a recent college grad from American Film Institute Conservatory when the short film first started to surface.

As the film begin to gain popularity, many African Americans began to question the intentions of the white director Ari Aster.

When asked her thoughts on an all-black cast and a white director, MissSeptember said “I feel like the white director is using the black cast as a way of us walking in their shoes. I feel like those things happen within the white communities rather than ours.”

When Aster was first interviewed shortly after the film was released, he stated that the idea behind this taboo film.

“We were talking about topics that are too taboo to be explored, and so we arrived at taboos that weren’t even taboos because they were so unfathomable, and the most popular was that of a son molesting his father” said Aster.

In the interview he also discussed the perception behind the all black cast, where he stated that the color of the cast was not important.

He revealed that Isaiah’s character is actually a friend that wanted to get into the acting business and he was the start behind the all black cast.

Aster was aware that the film may cause a stir within the different communities but didn’t let that derail his vision.

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