Academy Award nominee and Honorary Oscar winner Spike Lee’s filmed-play adaptation of newcomer Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over is set to release on April 20th by Amazon Studios.
The play or the play within a film (in this case) places Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker), two young black men of disadvantaged dispositions, on the corner of 64th and King Drive, a notoriously violent corner street on the South Side of Chicago. It’s here they shoot the sh-(ahem), trash talk, and generally pass the time, inevitably sharing their hopes and aspirations as they manifest in dreams of “the promised land”.
As many have pointed out since the play’s world premiere at Chicago’s celebrated Steppenwolf Theatre last summer, it’s a compelling riff on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, its on-the-nose symbolism reminiscent of the in-your-face allegory of Lee’s Do the Right Thing, as the film captures the poetry, humor and humanity of Nawandu’s urgent and timely work.
The Steppenwolf Theatre allowed Lee to secretly film a live production as contractually-mandated by Amazon Studios. The film itself doesn’t start on the fictional corner of 64th and King Drive but in our own world, where a black audience gathers at the theater to watch a performance of the play. As many of Lee’s “Joints” often demonstrate, his directing approach here is no less unique in the unconventional way he captures story on film. Pass Over, the film, is interwoven with reaction shots by the audience during poignant moments of dialogue, an additional element of realism that makes the plight of Moses and Kitch reflective of the audience’s understanding of what it means to be black American and disenfranchised, systemically oppressed, and hopelessly entangled in a world of poverty, crime, and police brutality.
Whether topical relevancy is your entertainment thing or not, it’s interesting to see how the straight-to-streaming format continues to model the impact of streaming platforms. The fact that a filmmaker as renown as Spike Lee is bringing the drama of live theatre to Amazon Prime says just as much about the current cultural climate of entertainment as Pass Over itself says about the current social climate of today.
Pass Over, directed by Spike Lee, written by Antoinette Nwandu, and directed for the stage by Danya Taymor, had its worldwide premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 26th and showed at SXSW on March 10th, 2018.