Every one of our actions effects the universe.
In Black Sheep, Cornelius Walker reflects on his impressionable teenage years as a young black boy living in a majority white neighborhood. His parents move their family from London to Essex after a young boy, much like Cornelius, was killed. His parents did what many would do, protect their children. Yet, Cornelius’s new life in Essex becomes an indirect consequence of the young boy’s death. Moving to a racist neighborhood damages his self-esteem as a young, black man. Black Sheep forces viewers to experience racism through Cornelius’s eyes and makes them stare it in the face.
Cornelius, a quiet, reserved boy feels trapped in the town. He meets kids who yell racial slurs at him, beat him up, and shun him. Inevitably, the physical and psychological torment weighs on him. He also battles with societal expectations and feels the pressure to be a strong man. To fulfill his need to be accepted and ease the pain he slowly erases himself. However, his blackness keeps him from fulfilling that desire. Ultimately, he decides to take radical measures to fit in. He bleaches his skin, wears blue contacts, and picks up the local accent.
Cornelius shows signs of double consciousness—a term coined by W.E.B. DuBois to describe the inner conflict of blacks in a society that rejects their true selves. He begins to completely reject his true self as he gains acceptance from his white peers. Later, he realizes that he “became friends with monsters.”
In this short film, director Ed Perkins uses vivid imagery that is consistently powerful, intentional, and emotional. Also, Cornelius’s storytelling is seamlessly interwoven with each scene. In one scene, Cornelius is trapped in a circle of white boys yelling names at him and threatening to hurt him. The visual contrast reflects his position as an outsider, a black sheep.
Films like this are incredibly important for everyone to see. Cornelius’s unadulterated telling of his troubling adolescent years allows the world to consider the truth about race, identity, and social constructs. His experience is relatable not only to blacks but other people of color. Storytelling is a powerful tool. Sharing stories can be therapeutic but it also opens up a dialogue about issues that are often avoided.
Black Sheep takes us on a downhill spiral of one young boy’s story that reminds us of human vulnerability and our unifying desire to belong.
This film was named among the ten finalists for the Documentary Short Subject category for the 91st Academy Awards. You can watch Black Sheep and other short documentary films at The Guardian.