Although there are always exceptions to the rule, one’s circumstances growing up often dictate where he or she will end up in life. We are all products of the neighborhoods we grew up in, how wealthy or poor our families were, and the types of jobs our parents had, among many other factors.
The new Netflix film All Day and a Night explores the upbringing of one particular African American boy, Jahkor (Ashton Sanders), and the impact it had on him. The film starts with Jahkor murdering a drug dealer over an unknown past slight, and proceeds to go back and forth in time to show various moments in his younger years and his time in prison after being convicted for the killing.
Written and directed by Joe Robert Cole (co-writer of Black Panther), the film posits that Jahkor essentially never had a chance at escaping his current fate. His father (Jeffrey Wright) was a drug user and never missed an opportunity to teach a lesson to Jahkor through violence. His only role model was a drug dealer named Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and his best friend, TQ (Isaiah John), became an underling for another dealer.
But Jahkor has a constant struggle between the angry man he has become and the type of person he wants to be. He has a baby with Shantaye (Shakira Ja’Nai Paye), and most of his moments with her show a different side than he puts on display with everyone else. He also has dreams of becoming a rapper, but he has limited resources for pursuing that goal.
It’s difficult to tell the overall point that Cole is trying to make with the film. It’s certainly not news that many African Americans are susceptible to violence and drugs because of innumerable historical factors. Cole never seems to find a way to distinguish the story from other similar ones that have come before.
Jahkor’s tale, while tragic on its own, doesn’t resonate in a way that would make it seem worth telling over that of any other similar character. Save for a few small moments, Jahkor has a one-note personality and rarely displays anything that would make him worthy of redemption.
Sanders, who impressed as Chiron in the Oscar-winning Moonlight, certainly has a presence to him, but his performance seems to be in service of very little. Wright is a great actor, but he seems miscast both in age and temperament for his role. The most magnetic persona is Abdul-Mateen II, but he has relatively few scenes in which to show his talent.
All Day and a Night takes place in a part of society that many of us will never know. While Cole does a great job of showing how dark and depressing that way of life can be, the film fails to give any true insight on why it’s that way or how it can be changed.