In this blog post I will be discussing the marxist commentary within the short film Shift by Jonathan Yi. This film can be found below:
Yi, Jonathan, director. Shift. Shift, vimeo.com/25707410.
I want to bring to attention the description posted with the film on the director’s (Jonathan Yi’s) website. The film is described as
“An award winning film about the rich, the not so rich, and the poor, and how a privileged middle class kid begins to understand someone else’s suffering. It also explores the false assumptions we bring to class, race, friendship and hatred”.
The film follows Alex Ye, as he works a night job surrounded by blue collared workers, in order to pay for his acting head shots. The most striking and obvious comparison is made between Alex ad his co-workers. He is working the job by choice, and doesn’t necessarily rely on it for a living. The other workers surrounding him throughout the film work multiple jobs each. Alex gets to see quite literally “How the Other Half Lives” as Jacob Riis, the famous American photographer demonstrates in his book (1890) of the same name.
Riis, Jacob A., and Hasia R. Diner. How the Other Half Lives: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.
The compilation of photos vividly depict the slums of New York City at the time the book was published. The book forced the elite to see the half of the city that they otherwise were blinded to. Similarly, Alex shows up to his night shift at the mailing center just as blind to the “hard knocks” other’s live with. We as viewers are able to see this when the conversation comes up about acting classes. The other workers cannot understand why he would spend that much money on acting classes that are cheaper elsewhere. The concept of money is blatantly different for the two classes.
Alex recognizes his privilege at the end of the film by not knocking on his rich friend’s door. He has connections to help get him work elsewhere. When he sees the gardener in the yard of his friend, he is reminded of what he has learned from his job and opts to find work himself.
The pendulum swings both ways in the film with regards to opening eyes. The other workers learn not to assume things about Race as well. I found this a bit ironic for how diverse the staff was as a whole prior to his arrival. The workers are shocked that Alex does not eat rice or particularly asian dishes all the time. Even though the Chinese employees opt to do so. I believe that Jonathan Yi is trying to educate the audience of his film about how much we depend on and use race to make assumptions (though many times inaccurate) about someone we have just met. These assumptions, though unintentionally so in many cases, are racist microaggressions against others. I believe that through presenting some of the most cringe worthy assumptions in a “day in the life” style film, he forces people to examine how these assumptions play into their own daily interactions.
The film director (the character) trying to get Alex to act the role of a Japanese person, played into the stereotype and the exoticism that dictates that Japanese people are to be feared (a racist mentality that dates back to WWII). By requiring him to wear black face there are many layers of criticism at work within this one scene alone.