A young black man is pulled over by a white cop in Chicago. It’s a scene increasingly dominant in our minds. The sense of foreboding is palpable. Was the stop justified? Was it a case of racial profiling? How will it end?
This type of encounter is at the heart of the new short film, On Sight, by Tosin Morohunfola, who wrote, directed and starred in the piece. The film debuted to strongly favorable audience reaction at the KC Film Festival this last April. It is also steadily reaching viewers on YouTube.
Morohunfola’s objective in making the film was to inspire conversation. “Duty. Power. Suspicion. Fear. What do you see?” is the question posed. He was motivated by white policeman Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. At one point Morohunfola found himself sitting next to a judge on a flight and the two discussed the probability of Darren Wilson being indicted (the judge was sure he would be). While many of his activist friends journeyed to Ferguson, Morohunfola could not, due to acting commitments. What he could do, he decided, was to create a short film that would bring the issues to the forefront and, he hoped, to a wide audience.
On Sight, featuring almost solely local KC talent and funded largely by Indiegogo, generates real discussion and soul searching. It offers no “proof” — there is no absolute designation as to which party is right and which one wronged. This question is the viewer’s to ponder. As Morohunfola states, “perspective is always part of the equation.” The reaction he works toward is that we be open-minded and, most importantly, moved to take action and make improvements. “How do we help?” is his ultimate goal.
Morohunfola planned to get the film into other film festivals, but there have been obstacles. Its length of 35 minutes makes it both too short and too long for many events; plus, acting commitments have left him with little time to shop it. At this point, a growing success on YouTube may be On Sight’s best prospect at wider distribution.
Morohunfola has been contacted by schools about showing the film to students, but for that it would need to be adjusted — in language, for example. Ideally, On Sight would be taken up by law enforcement elements and used for sensitivity and bias training. The website, OnSightFilm.com, offers instruction, discussion questions, background and additional materials. Morohunfola’s insightful warning is “Be careful what you see.”
The son of Nigerian parents, Morohunfola grew up in Leawood and attended Blue Valley High School, where he realized his love of acting (although it had to win out over drumming). He graduated in theatre arts from KU. In KC he has been a steady acting presence at The Unicorn and the Coterie, appearing in Shrek, Blacktop Sky, Meet Vera Stark, The Wiz and The Wrestling Season. He’s performed with the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and the New Theatre Restaurant.
Morohunfola moved to Chicago in 2013 when he was offered a role at the Goodman Theatre. He has since acted with Northlight, Lookingglass, Victory Gardens, Creede Repertory and Court theaters. Many of the plays he has acted in have had a racial theme, starting with Pullman Porter Blues in 2013 and Butler and Thaddeus and Slocum most recently. Coming up next for him in Chicago theater is the role of Mr. Bingley of Pride and Prejudice fame. He’ll also return to Kansas City in September to direct The Presidents for the Coterie Theatre.
Morohunfola has TV under his belt as well, with recent roles in Chicago Fire and Empire and a recurring role in Chicago Med.
And more films are on the agenda. He’s working with noted director of photography Marcus Guider on Endowed, which deals with fatherhood and generation issues. And he has plans with his On Sight cinematographer Morgan Cooper to produce Sundown Town, highlighting historical discrimination, injustice and threat in small-town America.
Acting doesn’t define Morohunfola. He writes poetry, drums, juggles, dances, does improv and spoken word. He’s mastered many accents as well as mime and stage combat.
With all those interests, it isn’t surprising that he finds himself driven to exert ever more artistic control. His question to himself “What am I good at?” came with a clear answer: “I’m a good storyteller.” Clearly, for Morohunfola, this opens up a never-ending, vibrant field.