(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/3; on Michael Hill in Pass Over. Photograph: Amazon Prime Video.)

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Lee’s 2018 film of Nwandu’s powerful play, written as a response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, resonates after the George Floyd killing

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/3; on Michael Hill in Pass Over. Photograph: Amazon Prime Video.)

Two homeless men in Spike Lee’s film who inhabit a shabby street corner fear for their lives, although there is no visible threat. They joke and banter, but terror buzzes beneath the repartee. One keeps vigil while the other sleeps. Their stalkers, it becomes clear, are the police, though their purported crimes remain undefined: “We’re just two black men standing here and we ain’t doing shit.” They puzzle over the death toll of black men around them. “What his crime is?” asks one man. “Breathing while black?”

Even though Pass Over was originally written by Antoinette Nwandu as a stage play, partly as a response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Lee’s 2018 adaptation might just as well be speaking about the death last week in Minneapolis of George Floyd and the conflagration of pained outrage that followed it.

Lee made a short film in protest against Floyd’s death this week, but Pass Over’s awful eloquence serves equally as a reminder of injustices at the hands of the police and of besieged black American masculinity. Lines leap out with grave and chilling resonance. “Stop killing us,” says Moses (Jon Michael Hill), who is one part of the duo alongside Kitch (Julian Parker).

Like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, from which Nwandu’s script takes its inspiration, Moses and Kitch are in a perpetual state of waiting but dream of attaining their “true potential” even as they remain stuck in their immovable fates. “You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason,” reflected James Baldwin in 1962 about limits on the black American dream. These men find themselves just as restricted.

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