There are several scenes in The Inheritance in which the characters—young Black activists who have started a collective in West Philadelphia—give direct-to-camera interviews in front of a wall plastered with quotations from Black revolutionaries. “Practice without thought is blind,” reads one. “Thought without practice is empty.” This playful and penetrating film follows the impulse of those words. Ultimately, it offers a thoughtful treatise on the practical challenges of creating change.
The Inheritance starts when Julian (Eric Lockley) inherits a house from his late grandmother, and, after flipping through her books on Black socialism, decides to start a communal home. It’s a bold plan: There will be public talks by local activists and musical performances. Their library will be open to the public and reside in their kitchen. The line between private life and public inspiration will be thoroughly blurred. It’s an admirable commitment, but the film makes sure to properly scrutinize Julian’s motivations. On the one hand, he seems genuinely invested in change, but it’s notable that the first person he invites to move in is the beautiful Gwen (Nozipho Mclean), who he’s been crushing on for some time. It’s a conflict between lofty ideals and the messy, often unflattering realities of being human, and those conflicts define the film.
In this feature debut, writer-director Ephraim Asili effectively mines his subject for both laughs and epiphany. For example: The group agrees to a “no shoes” policy in the house but finds it difficult to enforce, so Julian suggests changing the rule to “We are a shoeless house,” hoping that an affirmation will be more effective than a restriction. We never find out if it works, and I wish we had—the film often favors eclecticism over narrative payoff—but it’s fascinating to watch the process of collectivism play out over such a minor issue.
Incorporating archival footage of underdiscussed events in Black history, from the Philadelphia police firebombing MOVE activists in 1985 to the electric presidential campaign of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, The Inheritance takes a holistic approach, using every tool in an artist’s belt to engage the viewer. “Our first step is to re-educate ourselves,” a character says early on, and the film gratefully interprets that mission as liberally as possible. For some viewers, it might feel more like an artful history lesson than what they traditionally think of as a narrative film, but it’s hard to ding a movie that seeks to inspire revolutionary change for deviating from the norm.
Rooted in its politics, The Inheritance is also aware of and pays homage to its cinematic forebears. There are explicit references to Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, about a group of Parisian teenagers who form their own Maoist collective. It also feels influenced by Daisies, a revolutionary 1966 Czech film about two young women who prank old, horny men. The Inheritance isn’t as absurdist as Daisies, but it enacts a similar rule-breaking ethos by melding documentary and narrative. There are moments when it’s unclear if we’re watching the characters, or if Asili has broken the fourth wall to show us the actors learning about their roles. There’s a downside to this approach; the characters never quite come to life as they should, and the film’s few attempts to make us care about them as individuals falls flat. Ultimately, the film cares more about its principles than its individuals, which leaves you with even more to ponder than perhaps was intended.
The Inheritance is available to stream through Suns Cinema starting March 11.