Review by Sean Boelman
There is no denying that it is important to hear about the stories of ordinary people who are making an extraordinary impact on the world through their courage and actions. Ashley O’Shay’s Unapologetic is a powerful and important look at today's issues from an honest perspective.
The film tells the story of two activists in Chicago who lead the Movement for Black Lives in the aftermath of two police killings. Although the movie focuses on events that took place from 2012 to 2019, this story is even more relevant now given the tragedies that happened in 2020 and brought so much attention to the issue.
Admittedly, this is a big movement to be able to cover in a single ninety-minute film. One of the many events, like the campaign of mayor Lori Lightfoot, which the movie explores could have made for a compelling documentary in its own right, but O’Shay combines them all into a surprisingly cohesive portrait of the movement.
It does feel at times as if the film isn’t doing enough. There are points at which it plays out more like a human interest story than a movie about political issues. That said, it still manages to provoke thought, particularly in regards to the government oppression of minority voices such as the ones we see being depicted here.
Arguably more interesting is the commentary the film has on identity. The movie is just as much about the subjects’ place in the world as Black women as it is about the Movement for Black Lives. The title itself refers to how the subjects are unflinching in their identity and support of the cause, and this is the most moving portion of the story.
O’Shay’s choice to focus on two specific activists was wise, as it gives the audience a much easier point of connection to the story. The two main subjects of the film are both very approachable, and the movie makes a point of showing them in their everyday lives as well as their activism as to allow the viewer to sympathize with them more easily.
The film is very competent from a technical standpoint, even if it doesn’t do a whole lot that is distinctive from a stylistic standpoint. O’Shay’s primary focus here is on telling the story in a way that gets its message across in as efficient of a way as possible, which ends up being mostly through standard fly-on-the-wall footage.
Unapologetic is a very solid documentary all-around, even if it isn’t as groundbreaking as it could have been. Still, it’s an effective and worthwhile addition to the conversation going on right now about these issues.
Unapologetic is now playing in theaters.