Exhibiting Forgiveness, directed and written by Titus Kaphar, is a thought-provoking film starring André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor and Ian Foreman. Set against a backdrop of familial struggle and personal demons, Kaphar’s film navigates the complexities of forgiveness, accountability and the resilience of the human spirit.
Tarrell Rodin (Holland), a loving father and husband, resides in the suburbs with his wife Aisha (Day), a singer-songwriter, and their son Jermaine. Renowned in the American art scene for his haunting, personal work, Tarrell dedicates his days to his art studio, using painting to turn his nightmares into art. His devotion to art, coupled with the support of his family and his diligent work ethic, has helped him keep his ugly past at a distance. He aims to take care of his mother Joyce (Ellis-Taylor) and wants to get her out of the neighborhood she lives in, but she’s apprehensive as she wants to stay close to her church. Its only a temporary move; deep down he hopes Joyce can provide support as he struggles with old memories.
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Life officially unravels when his abusive father La’Ron (Jelks) appears in his life, free from drugs and alcohol and asking for another chance. Tarrell didn’t ask for any of this. Against his well, Joyce went behind his back to plan this reunion in hopes of putting their family back together again. Now, Tarrell must manage his emotion now that his abuser is back in his life, and put in the work to rectify the past in order to move on to the present and transform generational trauma into generational healing.
There is something to be said for the level of denial that exists among elders in the Black community. Joyce is dealing with hidden issues she is in denial about. La’Ron with a Bible explaining away his past. How is Terrell supposed to find closure when dealing with people who cant even be honest?
Black men are taught to be unfeeling, unemotional, work through the pain. Titus’ puts it on display to show how cycles of abuse perpetuate themselves, and how there is power in stopping that cycle. There is an appreciation for a Tarell who refuses to be gaslit, and sticks up for himself. Shows emotion when he feels it, and does all the things he wasn’t allowed to do as a young boy.
Exhibiting Forgiveness distinguishes itself with a soulful and contemplative score by Jherek Bischoff, and music by Day mirrors Kaphar’s nuanced direction. This artistic choice beautifully complements the performances of its talented cast. Holland, Ellis-Taylor, and Day are recognized as some of the finest actors in the industry today. Their portrayal in the film is both powerful and emotionally resonant, contributing significantly to the film’s overall impact.
The issues lie in Kaphar’s narrative. The audience sits through so many traumatic moments and then is asked to find optimism in the experience, which may work for some and not for others as it’s just not a simple choice. Maybe it would have worked for me if it were balanced by more levity, but it isn’t. It’s a constant beating.
Do those who have committed harsh transgressions have the capacity for good? Sure, but it doesn’t erase their past because accountability has to be taken somewhere. However, Exhibiting Forgiveness proves you do not need other people’s acknowledgement or approval to find forgiveness within yourself.
It’s ok to find something like art or the Bible that helps in the healing process, but that can’t be all. You have to do the work. Giving yourself that grace is so powerful because if not that pain will trickle into other aspects of your life and the cycle will continue. We have to strive to be different than those who came before us.
Title: Exhibiting Forgiveness
Festival (Section): Sundance (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Director-screenwriter: Titus Kaphar
Cast: Andre Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor
Running time: 1 hr 57 min
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