Race satire meets teen buddy comedy in Amazon's 'Emergency'
LOS ANGELES, May 18, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - "Emergency" begins like any coming-of-
age buddy comedy. But its young heroes' night of party-hopping hi-jinks
quickly takes a more serious and sinister turn -- in large part because they
Unlike white characters from genre classics like "Superbad" who emerge
unscathed from playful interactions with bemused cops, college students Sean
and Kunle panic when they find a high-school girl passed out on their living
Fearing what might happen if they dial 911 in such a compromising scenario,
they rope Latino housemate Carlos into helping ferry her to hospital, setting
off a series of hilarious and terrifying consequences.
"It seems like it's gonna be a 'Superbad' or a 'Booksmart' type of movie -- I
feel like even the characters want this so badly to be like a teen comedy,"
the movie's writer K.D. Davila told AFP.
"They want it to be that, but it's not, it can't be."
"Which is a fucked-up, bitter reality of what it's like for a lot of people,"
agreed director Carey Williams.
At the heart of "Emergency," out in US theaters Friday and on Amazon Prime
Video next week, is the constant and everyday burden placed on young men of
color whom society is quick to perceive as a threat.
Growing up, Davila said she "saw this phenomenon where my dad and other men
in my family, especially the ones who were darker skinned, had to do this
strange calculation every time we went anywhere, (of) considering how they're
"You can make those calculations and you can do your best to project
'innocence' or whatever. But it doesn't matter sometimes. You can still get
pulled over and searched for no reason."
Davila and Williams turned those observations into a short film, winning
awards at festivals including Sundance and SXSW in 2018, before Amazon and a
cast including pop star Sabrina Carpenter came aboard for this year's
The intervening period brought the death of George Floyd, the explosion of
Black Lives Matter protests and a greater focus on diversity in Hollywood,
but the filmmakers reject the idea their film is "topical."
"This is literally not new. We're glad that people were talking about it and
engaging with it. But the idea that it had to get to this point was a little
surprising," said Davila.
In a nod to the superficiality of society's change, an indignant white couple
film themselves confronting Sean and his friends simply for parking at night
outside their home -- the lawn of which proudly bears a "Black Lives Matter"
- 'Cathartic and funny' -
But the filmmakers say they did not set out to preach to white people about
"We weren't like 'We're teaching you how bad this is!'" said Davila.
Instead, "Emergency" was made "for people who've been through this, who've
been living in this culture of fears."
"Hopefully, the movie is cathartic and funny to people who've been through
that. That was the thing that might be a little different in our approach
than other movies."
For Williams, the film is an opportunity to delve into the young friends'
relationship, and their different approaches to handling "Black masculinity
Clean-cut and trusting Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) doesn't initially feel he
is treated any differently due to his skin color, while cocky and macho Sean
(R.J. Cyler) has had a fear of authority seemingly drilled into him by lived
This contrast leads to the pair making very different choices over the course
of the night -- each of which Williams hopes the audience can empathize with.
"There is a lot of humor... in the way they reacted to each other trying to
do the right thing and get out of the situation," said Williams.
He added: "The film should raise questions about how these young men have to
maneuver through the world."