All Day and a Night is a drama split into multiple timelines covering the events of Jahkor's young life. The first timeline is him serving his prison term after being sentenced to life for murder, the second timeline is his childhood being given different parental styles by his father, mother, and grandmother. The third timeline is the period of life leading up to his decision to kill. The timelines weave in and out to give a sense of who Jahkor is as a person, why he may have committed his crime, and the socio-economic factors that made his stint in jail an inevitable conclusion. It stars Ashton Sanders, Isaiah John, Kelly Jenrette, Shakira Ja'nai Paye, Regina Taylor, Christopher Meyer, Jalyn Hall, Kaleb Alexander Roberts, Ramone Hamilton, Andrea Ellsworth, James Earl, Rolanda D. Bell, Stephen Barrington, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jeffrey Wright. It is written and directed by Joe Robert Cole. It is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
There's a sequence in All Day and a Night that made me cringe. It needed to be there to make people like me cringe. People like me who forget that they grew up with racial bias all around them and that those talking points are still on a loop in our heads when we read the news. In this sequence Jahkor gets a job working at a shoe store to help save money for the baby his girlfriend is expecting. He puts on a sweatshirt and goes to the sales floor to merchandise. A white woman watches him from outside and then comes in. The two look at each other as Jahkor holds several boxes of shoes. She asks, "What are you doing? Where's the salesperson?" As a police officer carefully walks by the window peeking in, we see Jahkor get nervous. He states the obvious to the woman without emotion, "I work here." The woman shakes her head and walks out of the store, the police officer moves on, but that tension still exists. As Jahkor says in the narration, "It's like little cuts." People's perceptions, judgements, and prejudice just cuts away at a person. It all brings a person down and makes them feel less.
I have no doubt writer/director Joe Robert Cole has put his own experiences, people he knew, conversations he's had into this script and this film. He has a way with the slang of the neighborhood and the life of the characters. The story of All Day and a Night is twisting and turning and you may not catch what a certain scene means, but it comes back. We're led through the thought processes of Jahkor in order to try and answer the question posed to him in the courtroom during his sentencing, why?
I typically have an eye roll when a film starts with an ending instead of a beginning, but in All Day and a Night, that ending is just the beginning of something else. Plus, when the tension is built this well, the tropes used don't matter. All we see at the beginning is Jahkor in a car, writing some lyrics and checking his watch. When he goes to his parking spot is when the tension begins. The scene suddenly becomes a tracking shot, pulling us behind Jahkor through the labyrinthine backyard ecosystem of the neighborhood. We don't know where he's going or what he's going to do with two guns when he gets there.
Cole and cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagne have built a number of these tracking shots into the film. The tracking shots convey life, like the one that takes us through the party to celebrate Big Stunna. There's also one to show prison hierarchy that so clearly sets up Jahkor's self-appointed ostracizing. There's excellent visual storytelling in these movements of camera and sneaky edits by Mako Kamitsuna to stitch it all together into a fantasia.
What All Day and a Night does well is show the hopelessness of the situation when the thing that holds you back is the skin you were born into. The most tragic of the characters being Lamark who does put his mind on his school work, who does resist the calls to join the drug game, who "gets out" by joining the army, but who is forgotten by the government he fought for. He's thrown away after his injury and in his desperation to get back into shape he goes in for an operation and is awarded paralyzation for the rest of his life. We see Jahkor's hope drain away completely when he learns this as he sits in a car waiting to spend time with Big Stunna as Stunna's men surround him with automatic weapons and mirrors, looking under his car and in his trunk for explosives, the job Lamark had overseas, the job that cost him the use of his legs.
Ashton Sanders is an incredible actor. He's an actor who has so much going on behind his eyes and in the physicality in his roles. He exudes emotion from every pore and puts something incredible into the depth of his voice as he thinks before he says each word. His mind is always working and moving toward something. He brings an extremely powerful amount of life to Jahkor, disappearing into the role so fully and spectacularly.
Film is a way for people to develop empathy for others. It's a way for us to see someone else's experiences portrayed in a way and expressed in a way that would be hard for us to get in a normal conversation. All Day and a Night is a film that takes place in a world I and other privileged people like me will never understand. It's a world of hard choices and difficulties beyond the scope of the ordinary. Films like All Day and a Night help me to retrain my brain against the racial biases inherent in our society. We need to empathize and see all people as human, to find ourselves and our dreams in them. I think you should watch All Day and a Night and find that empathy for these very human characters.