A short film like Augustus is one that should be seen by people of all ages and ethnicities, especially in times like these. The anger and frustration felt by many due to racial injustices happening across the country came to a head this year – the police killing of George Floyd sparked hundreds of protests in the summer of 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement grew even larger.
This film focuses on a literate slave named Augustus (Ayindé Howell), pretending to be an escaped slave in 1841 Massachusetts. He is plagued by nightmares that show him the death of his son in a distant future that resembles the racial inequalities he experiences as a black man in the 1800s. Through these dreams, Augustus can see that if he does not speak up and take action, nothing will change. He is left with the choice to stand up for his rights or remain complicit.
Director Jon Henri Alston’s statement on making the film is truly inspirational. Alston is known to many as a former NFL player, Stanford graduate, director, and filmmaker. However, he touches on the fact that he is the son of a convicted felon, who was treated unfairly by the U.S. “Justice” System that works so hard to keep black people in jail. He writes, “It is my mission to express what I’ve grown to feel through the medium of film, because my pains were something that I could never talk to anyone else about directly. And now, with Augustus, I continue to walk in that mission.”
Everything from the hairstyles, wardrobe, set, and props makes the audience feel as if they are watching actual events play out between slaves and powerful white men. It is upsetting to see them being taken advantage of, and it is clear that while this film is fictional, these were real situations that people were forced to be in.
The film ends with real life footage of Black Lives Matter protests, police shootings of unarmed black people, and a murderous hate crime targeting a black man. After the footage is played, the screen is filled with the names of black Americans that were victims of racial violence. It is very moving, and difficult to watch. However, it ends with a brilliant call to action. White words on a black screen which say: “No More Names.”
Augustus is very moving and empowering. In just 15 minutes, it gives us a glimpse at the life of a slave, and what he did to overcome his fears and speak out against the injustices faced by black people in America. It was awarded the 2020 Social Justice Film Festival’s Featurette Narrative Screening Prize and is being campaigned as a contender in the Best Live Action Short Film Category for the Oscars.
If you get the chance to, I encourage you to watch this short film. It is only 15 minutes long, but its messages shine strong and bright from beginning to end.