April 27, 2015

Shaka King's Satire 'Mulignans' Turns the Tables on Mob Movie Racism

Shaka King Mulignans

"People who make movies don't have a choice," said writer/director Shaka King (Newlyweeds) at Sundance this year. With a well-received, darkly hilarious Sundance feature already under his belt, King proved his point by proceeding to make a no budget, shot-in-one-day short because, in his words, "I don't like doing anything else." King writes, directs, and stars in the five-minute "Mulignans," which he and his longtime friends planned on making and releasing themselves — but then they got the call that they were selected for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered earlier this year. 

"Mulignans" asks important questions that offfset its breezy pacing and humorous tone: if viewers tolerate offensive language and perspectives from white Italians on film, how do they feel when those same attitudes and epithets come from those who are usually the target of the vernacular? And is the gentrification of Brooklyn and the accompanying change in racial makeup of many neighborhoods any different from the kinds of changes decried by mobsters throughout film history?

After a prestigious festival bow, King released "Mulignans" online for free, as was his original intent. Warning: NSFW and, by design, offensive language. Our Q&A follows.

No Film School: You guys have been riffing on these characters for a while, right? When did it start? 

Shaka King: My cousin Jerard (with the du-rag) and I have been riffing on these characters since 7th grade or so. I went to school in a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood from 5th grade through High School and encountered a few guys like these. Around that time I also discovered Scorcese flicks. Who knows why, but one day I started talking to my cousin on the phone in this accent and he cracked up and came back with his own variation. Years later Cavalier (with the ponytail) started attending my High School and he can mimic any man, alien or animal…so a sort of troupe was born.

NFS: How did you feel about mob movies featuring and lionizing overtly racist characters when you first started impersonating those accents and mannerisms, and did that feeling change as you got older?

SK: We found those characters funny. Still do. In the beginning when playing these guys we actually made racist jokes about ourselves. I think even as kids we recognized the absurdity of racism and race as a construct. We were listening to Richard Pryor albums and watching and rewinding Eddie Murphy singing “Kill the White People” on SNL, so we had references too. Which isn’t to say that we didn’t recognize the cruelty of racism as well. Particularly in High School, having a socially segregated experience for many years and experiencing racial tension on the daily…not always in the sense of someone calling you a nigger, though that happened as well. But just feeling like an outsider. Talking like these guys was a way to mock them.  

NFS: How did the idea for the short evolve from what you had in mind originally to what you ended up with?

SK: Kristan Sprague, my long time editor and friend from college, came up with the concept. But initially we structured it around this climactic hate crime where we bludgeoned a White jogger to death while calling him nigger. It was like an SNL sketch written by Gaspar Noe. And it loomed so heavy over the piece that we couldn’t move forward. Because we didn’t want to make something hateful. And yet at the same time we didn’t see how the film worked as a fully realized satire without that conclusion. Interestingly enough the bobble head ending we came up with was 100% improvised and it’s probably my favorite moment in the film.

Shaka King in Mulignans
Credit: Alphonse Elric
NFS: Did you have any particular release strategy in mind for this short? 

SK: Worldstar. We still want it on Worldstar.

NFS: What was the shoot like as far as equipment, crew, length?

SK: It was a one day shoot, no lights, shot on the 7D. Daniel Patterson DP’d and worked with three operators so we could improv non-stop and cut seamlessly.

NFS: What are you working on now?

SK: I’m working on a two-part feature length satire of celeb-reality television called Liquid Courage. It’s also a satire of magical Negro movies. I’m also developing a TV idea with some musician friends of mine.


Thanks, Shaka! And in case you missed it, here's (part of) the roundtable discussion Shaka participated in from Sundance 2015:

Your Comment

11 Comments

Anyone else had to think of this scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3yon2GyoiM

April 28, 2015 at 7:02AM, Edited April 28, 7:02AM

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Great short! Love it! The image is beautiful, can't believe it was shot on 7d. I think I need to watch it couple of times to fully understand what the protagonists say.

April 28, 2015 at 7:05AM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1128

That's F@^## beautiful Meng ...

April 28, 2015 at 9:34AM

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Nigel Thompson
Director / Editor / Producer
172

Great short, very well put together, something not too fancy but really entertaining. Too many shorts these days try to cram too much in them they forget the key objective, to entertain.

April 28, 2015 at 10:23AM, Edited April 28, 10:23AM

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Greg
Editor / Assistant Editor
148

Thought provoking. Entertaining. Really great job! Looked fantastic for a 7D.

April 28, 2015 at 3:32PM

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Tim
258

This was awesome! 7D? Wow.

April 28, 2015 at 5:13PM

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Mustafa Johnson
Director/Videographer/Editor
175

Exploring serious matters needs to start with a respectful approach, and this short... fell short.

April 28, 2015 at 10:46PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
4025

Tell that to Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, etc. etc. etc.

April 29, 2015 at 1:23PM, Edited April 29, 1:23PM

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A. Broad
147

Ummm what would they say about Baltimore burning? Circa 2015 one expects sensitivity and dialog-driven approach. The ridicule and satire truly have no place going forward. With utmost request to your point of view, AZ.

April 30, 2015 at 1:02AM, Edited April 30, 1:12AM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
4025

They would say its all the more reason for the film. The films works against the paradoxical values that racism instills in the subconscious. Why is the imagery acceptable on the Sopranos, but it makes you feel uneasy with black characters? Why when rioters are black its violence, but when their white its expression and angst. Why is the point of the film. When the filmmaker is trying to influence you to actually question the prejudices in your subconscious, why are you trying to use examples of the social outcomes of prejudice to invalidate and suppress the need for self-reflection. You should really think internally about why.

I really despise what you stand for Alex, I haven't commented on this site in at least six months but was sick from your statements. This film has a voice, it has a statement that takes risks and creative choices, so many filmmakers don't have the courage to make an argument with their films today, but they have the audacity to criticize filmmakers who put more on the line then you do. Satire has no place in film anymore, those are the words of a filmmaker who has nothing to say or is afraid to say it.

April 30, 2015 at 9:52AM

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Well Chaplin and Brooks made comedy films about the man/people who perpetrated the Holocaust, soooo...

Aside from this short being made long before the Baltimore events, doesn't the film serve as part of this 'dialog'? Aren't the Jon Stewarts and John Olivers and the like still making jokes? But these black folks need your white approval?

May 3, 2015 at 3:17PM

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A. Broad
147

With utmost *respect* to your point of view, AZ. (Naturally ^_^)

April 30, 2015 at 2:21AM, Edited April 30, 2:21AM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
4025

I think this does exactly what satire is supposed to do. I laughed. For real. And then I thought about the double standard of not just race in mob movies but the glorification of Italian mafia vs. the vilification of black kids that commit petty crimes (i.e. calling them "thugs" etc.) Also, the girl in this is great. When she's arguing about the metro card I wanted to keep watching her.

April 29, 2015 at 4:09PM

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Ian Mattingly
Artist/Film maker
91