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Underneath the titles and accolades of being an award-winning actor and filmmaker, Roderick Lawrence is another Black man living in America. And while his recent Oscar-qualifying short film Silent Partner didn’t receive an Academy Award, the story’s message resonates with anyone who’s ever experienced racial microaggressions in the workplace.
In roughly 15 minutes, Silent Partner takes viewers through the journey of a Black trial attorney who must decide whether to trade in his dignity and most precious possession in order to be elevated at his White-owned, corporate law firm. In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Roderick Lawrence detailed his inspiration for the film.
Lawrence, who also co-wrote the short film, plays the lead Black attorney, while actress Kara Young plays his wife and moral compass.
“What we try to do with the film came out of me understanding that I’m most helpful to us as a people through art,” Lawrence told The Black Wall Street Times.
Over the years, he discovered microaggressions were a huge part of his life before he even knew the word to describe them.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Lawrence excelled at sports and the arts. He played football all throughout elementary, middle and high school, along with musical instruments. It wasn’t until he auditioned for various theatre roles in high school that he began to see the box his environment tried to place around him.
As a football player, and one of the few Black students in his school, he was passed over for every lead role he auditioned for, but the shade his own teachers hung over him couldn’t cover his ultimate shine.
He was eventually accepted into Baldwin Wallace Conservatory and has since starred as Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King” national tour. He’s won several awards for his role in Silent Partner, which doesn’t shy away from the mental toll that comes with experiencing racial microaggressions.
“These are issues we need to talk about that we don’t see,” he said.
‘Silent Partner’ short film explores racial microaggressions, Black mental health
The internal, mental torment of a Black attorney, who is forced to stand on the opposite side of justice for Black Americans, provides a refreshingly unique perspective that few films have illuminated.
Compounding the external and internal battle taking place in the film, the couple is faced with racial microaggressions that continue to pile up as the film goes on, reaching a climax when the couple is faced with an ultimate choice.
The term racial microaggressions was first proposed by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, MD, in the 1970s, according to the American Psychological Association.
Examples include touching a Black woman’s hair or body without their permission, using derogatory slang terms for Black colleagues, or assuming a Black American is from somewhere else.
“My focus is on Black empowerment, and motivating and galvanizing our people. Anything other than that in this industry, I don’t have time for,” Lawrence said. “I’ve turned down a lot of roles because I didn’t think they were telling our stories. As an actor, I got a chance to start a new way of doing all Black film. I had an all Black creative team, Black director, Black writers and I was very intentional about that.”
Oftentimes, and as shown in the film, members of the White corporate culture deploy these microaggressions without realizing they’re being racist. Yet the unbalanced power dynamic often forces victims of the slights to sit there and take it in order to fit in or move up in the company.
From short to feature length
The effects of these microaggressions can negatively impact the mental wellbeing of those experiencing them, including loss of self-esteem, mistrust of peers, and decreased participation, issues that Silent Partner seamlessly illustrates through dialogue, facial expressions and Mise-en-Scené.
“I started this for us. We need to feel seen and heard and represented in a very authentic way that also has nuance to it,” Lawrence said of the impact he wants the film to have on Black viewers. “And for White people, to see who they are in the story. Everybody is represented in some way. I don’t believe in innocent bystanders.”
He has won the award for Best Actor at the 2022 BronzeLens Festival for his Performance in Silent Partner, which was also nominated for Best Film Short (Oscar qualifier). Silent Partner also won four Best Short Film awards at the 2021 Columbus Black International Film Festival, the 2021 North Carolina Black Film Festival, the 2021 Detroit Black Film Festival, and the 2022 Morehouse College Human Rights Festival.
Moving forward, Lawrence has established his own production company, Black Man Films. He plans to turn the short into a feature film. In light of the annual #OscarsSoWhite, Lawrence said the culture should focus on supporting Black artists.
“Just worry about making work that is worth our support and then when it is, let’s go and support it,” he said.
For more information on Roderick Lawrence, Black Man Films and Silent Partner, visit www.silentpartner-film.com and follow @rodericklaw and @silentpartnerfilm on Instagram.
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