Untitled Short Film About White People

By Nicholas Colia | Comedy
A white woman tries to befriend the Indian on her block.

Emma is a young, upwardly woman living in a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. That neighborhood is gentrifying quickly, and she feels a bit guilty about it.

Looking to alleviate her guilt, she tries to befriend Inder, the Indian woman who works at her corner bodega. She chats up the Inder incessantly, attempting to bond with her over everything from her jewelry to questions about her background, but Emma’s efforts are on the aggressive side. As they escalate and Inder remains unmoved, Emma barrels into a confrontation with her privilege, and a spiral into anxiety at the same time.

Written and directed by Nicholas Colia, this perceptive, intelligent short comedy of manners — which is produced by Maria Altamirano and Kate Stahl — offers sharp, funny observations about how social upheavals and uncertainties play out in our everyday interactions. This terrain has been well-established by filmmakers as diverse as Woody Allen, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Guest and many more, but the short injects contemporary issues into the genre, with witty, smart and empathetic results.

Its humor pokes some fun at the milieu of the upwardly mobile (and apparently artisanal cheese-obsessed) white professional, who historically have moved into established urban enclaves and driven up housing prices. But the engine of the narrative is grounded in character, particularly in Emma’s well-meaning attempts to befriend Inder, which are often humorously flustered and anxious as she tries to prove she’s not just a yuppie taking over a neighborhood.

The writing is excellent, capturing the many considerations that people must navigate when talking about issues like race, immigration and other hot button topics. And they’re wonderfully played for comedy, as Emma digs herself into deeper and deeper holes with Inder as she tries to prove she’s understanding of issues that Inder possibly faces. A relaxed but almost forensic visual style captures Emma’s social dynamic, emphasizing sometimes awkward framing and tight close-ups that feel almost claustrophobic at times. But the camerawork — helmed by cinematographer Jomo Fray — helps viewers understand Emma’s rising anxiety, especially as Inder (played by actor Gita Reddy with a perfect deadpan) remains stony-faced in the face of Emma’s charm offensive.

Actor Christy Escobar plays Emma with a deft balance of grounded emotion and comic timing, and displays a great fluency with the quicksilver dialogue. Emma is portrayed with a soupcon of satire, but still emerges with dimensionality because she is so genuine, well-meaning and vulnerable. Her Emma is funny because she tries so hard to relate to Inder. But she relates to Inder as a social type, or a representative of an idea or category. When Emma finally relates to Inder as a human being, with humor and authenticity, they can finally connect, in a final scene that is both quite touching and hilarious at the same time.

An award winner at both Cleveland and Palm Springs, “Untitled Short Film About White People” was made in 2018, just as social movements of all kinds began to take over the news and social media feeds. The storytelling has a lightness of touch, which makes its ability to reflect and examine the issue of social guilt all the more accomplished and dextrous. It appreciates how Emma is so willing to “go there” while still gently poking fun at how she goes about it. And in the end, it achieves one final zinger of a joke, while still evoking real feelings of warmth and goodwill for its resolute humanity.

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