LONDON (Reuters) – A Black teenager on trial for murder fights to clear his name and reclaim his identity in “Monster”, a film that dives headlong into issues that have animated the Black Lives Matter movement and often led the news agenda in recent times.
The Netflix drama follows 17-year-old Steve Harmon, a promising film student played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., who insists he is innocent after he is arrested for his alleged part in a fatal robbery at a bodega in Harlem, New York.
“It is right on time and it’s so necessary. I don’t think it would have had a more important impact than it will coming out now,” said Jennifer Hudson, the Oscar-winning actress who plays the central character’s mother.
Jeffrey Wright, who portrays Harmon’s father, said the film raised questions about topics such as the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States and how Black masculinity is perceived both by Black men and by society as a whole.
“It’s challenging for the individual who’s trying to express his manhood … and it’s also challenging for certain segments of society to craft … a respectful, honouring relationship with Black masculinity,” Wright said.
The movie, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, fleets between scenes from the past, where Harmon is seen shooting films, in class and at home with his family, and the courtroom where the prosecution paints him as a monster.
“It’s a beautiful movie mostly because we get a chance to see a young boy just try to find his way,” said Harrison of the character he plays.
“We don’t often get to see how they actually are in their home life, how they are with their friends, how they are with their lawyers, how they are in the prisons, in those cells, and how it affects their mental health.”
The film, based on a 1999 novel by Walter Dean Myers, also stars Jennifer Ehle and rapper A$AP Rocky.
“Monster” is released globally on Netflix on Friday.
(Reporting by Hanna Rantala, writing and additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, editing by Estelle Shirbon)