Black Feminist Video Game – Online via The Civilians, New York, NY

Writer: Darrel Alejandro Holnes

Director: Victoria Collado

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

As New York slowly reopens, most theaters are still online. The last offer of the civilians, black feminist video game, is taking full advantage of its online platform, inviting the public to the Twitch stream of teenage gamer Jonas Jones, who plays the titular black feminist video game in hopes of winning back the girl of his dreams. Along the way, he learns a thing or two about feminism, alliance, dating on the autism spectrum, and Audre Lorde. This interactive online game was written by Darrel Alejandro Holnes and directed by Victoria Collado with video game design by Ché Rose, Jocelyn Short and Erin Sullivan of Cookout Games.

black feminist video game opens when biracial neurodivergent teenager Jonas Jones (Christon Andell) logs onto Twitch to talk with his “social family”. Using flashback videos, he describes his meeting and falling in love classmate Nicole (Starr Kirkland). Nicole loves him back, but he alienates her on their first date by paying more attention to the women in the movie they are watching than the woman he is dating. When she scolds him and leaves, he turns to his friend Sabine (Kyla Jeanne Butts) and the public for help. Jonas is convinced that if he wins Black Feminist Video Game, the video game his mother’s friend Margurite (Mia Y. Anderson) designed in the 1990s, he’ll walk away with a prize that will convince Nicole to come back to him. Jonas and Sabine advance through the levels of the game guided by Margurite and eventually black feminist icon Audre Lorde (Brandiss LaShai Seward). As these women guide Jonas through the game, they remind him that black women are not prizes to be won, but empowered beings who deserve his respect and attention. He not only recognizes the way he devalued Nicole, but also the way he fired Sabine and overlooked the sacrifices her mother, Luna (Constance Fields) made for him.

This piece is a lot of fun and it’s clear the talented cast is having a blast. Jonas’ enthusiasm is contagious, and Christon Andell embodies the character with an immediately endearing sensibility. Kyla Jeanne Butts strikes the right balance between swagger and vulnerability as Sabine and Constance Fields as Luna captures the exhaustion of a single mother balancing work and home life with grace. Cookout Games’ 2D video game is smart and fun, sending Jonas and Sabine through challenges like The Forest of Feminist Angst and an army of white women ready to call the cops for any imagined transgression. Multimedia broadcast designer and programmer Julia Frey and her team are to be commended for seamlessly blending a variety of live and recorded material.

Darrel Alejandro Holnes’ piece does a lot of work – it tackles racism, misogyny, heterosexism and the challenges of living with autism in a world designed for the neurotypical. That’s a lot to tackle in eighty minutes while winning a boss battle with a cell phone pack wielding Karen and remembering to check in with mom regularly. If he sometimes feels a little overwhelmed, that may be part of the point. Intersectionality is busy and full; “ally” is a title Jonas must earn rather than give himself. black feminist video game is not subtle with its message; at times it feels almost heavy. Of course, subtlety will no more shatter white supremacist patriarchy than, as Audre Lorde tells us, the master’s tools will dismantle the master’s house.

Until May 9, 2021 | Photo credit: civilians

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