SIFF 2016 Review: Morris from America

Morris from America (2016)

dir. Chad Hartigan

written by: Chad Hartigan

starring: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Lina Keller, Carla Juri


3.5 out of 4 stars

Race relations in the past few years have produced contentious debates regarding the treatment of minorities in the United States today.  Between police violence and imprisonment rates, the country is finally becoming more aware of the plight facing our non-white citizens, particularly for African-American males.  What happens when this demographic is displaced to an area not only unaware of the needs and identity of this minority but also have hardly ever encountered individuals belonging to the group?


In Morris from America, a 13-year-old African American boy named Morris (Markees Christmas) moves to a smaller town in Germany to live with his soccer coach father Curtis (Craig Robinson) following his mother’s death.  In complete culture shock, Morris attempts to maneuver German lesson instructed by college student Inka (Carla Juri, all nosy and caring with a big sister rapport), associating with German teens, and handling the onslaught of pubescent lust.  Often unsupervised, Morris makes frequent ill-advised decisions while pining for Katrin (Lina Keller), a 15-year-old girl at his youth center.


This is not a story regarding the violence and unfair treatment of African-American males; this is a comedy surrounding the follies of being the fascinating fish out of water.  Stereotypes exist in one culture and through media, fear or brief encounters can encapsulate an entire vision of a race. When there are little to no examples to break that mold, these misconceptions and assumptions can stick. This is where Morris from America excels. Taking the casual racism in America, removing the police violence, and adding a German accent can truly explore the single-mindedness in human perception. When Morris visits Katrin in her bedroom, she inquired upon the personal aspects of Morris’s habits and anatomy, followed by the sheer terror of her mother finding a black boy in her daughter’s bedroom.


The film exceeds beyond exploring instinctive racism.  Both a touching story of a father and son handling the loss of their wife and mother and a story of an upcoming rapper discovering his craft, the film is a family dramedy uncommon in the best ways.  Craig Robinson gives the performance of his career as a father trying to be dad and friend to his out of place son while struggling to readjust to being single.  Reliving experiences with his late wife, he hides the loneliness under the happy memories.  His parenting in the movie provides the best snapshot of a father trying to avoid being solely a father to his son.  He does not want to push him away, so he lets Morris be a kid while letting him know how he’s screwed up.


Markees Christmas provides a strong debut as the aspiring writer and fish out of water.  Comfortable with his surroundings, Markees permits his teenage hormones take over while his imagination attempts to sneak back in.  Reacting to the confusing world around him, Markees finds solace in his music while trying to avoid the stereotypes thrown in his direction.  As the sole black kid in the town, a skeptical eye is kept on Morris, and Markees is ever aware of the assumptions made of his race.


Handily tied together by writer-director Chad Hartigan, Morris from America is a strong entry to be released by my darling A24.  Hilarious from more than the clash of cultures, a unique viewpoint of how we perceive others is brought to the screen.  Morris learns that he is not as seasoned as he would like to believe, and in a time of his life as confusing as this, it’s clear the directions he takes will be some interesting ones.


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