White Lies, Black Sheep

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TORONTO -- For his first narrative feature, documentary filmmaker James Spooner ("Afro-Punk") goes with what he knows, telling the story of a young African-American man who discovers that the New York underground music world he's immersed in isn't as colorblind as he had believed.

Ayinde Howell plays the role of A.J., a well-liked presence on the club promotion scene with spiky hair, skinny jeans and posters of Blondie and The Who on his walls.

His British, Afro-centric father can't figure him out, while his Caucasian best buddy tries unsuccessfully to get him to read "The Autobiography of Malcom X."

But gradually, through his unsuccessful relationships with women, A.J. begins to see himself the way others see him, realizing that maybe he hasn't blended in after all, and, in the process, he's also starting to see himself, for himself, for the first time in his life.

Shot with digital Betacam, "White Lies, Black Sheep" tells its story from the perspective of a documentary crew following A.J. around 24/7, but it may have been better to scrap the faux reality angle and take a more straight-ahead approach.

While the film's punk rock milieu certainly rings with authenticity and has an affable lead in Howell--and there are moments when Spooner's style calls to mind the youthful energy of early Spike Lee -- there remains the basic problem of trying to fill the feature-length running time with what, at best, amounts to half-an-hour of story.

Hopefully next time out, Spooner will flesh out a screenplay that will better serve those unique, first-hand observations on identity and community.
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