The first word seen by viewers of Shaka King’s short film “Mulignans” is Italian-American slang for the n-word, immediately letting them know that the following four minutes are going to deal with race.
The second thing they see is three black men dressed up like Italian mobsters sitting on a New York stoop, one sunbathing with a tinfoil reflector, while another smokes a cigarette and reads the newspaper. With thick Italian accents, they gripe about the white people causing their neighborhood to go “to the friggin’ dogs.”
A finalist in TheWrap’s 2015 ShortList Film Festival, “Mulignans” flips the script on racial dynamics, making white people the object of derision, as African Americans so often are in movies like “A Bronx Tale.” King and his co-writer Kristan Sprague drew their inspiration from a scene in the 1993 Robert De Niro film in which the white characters heckle a black teenager.
King had been doing the impression of Italian mobsters with Cavalier and Jerard Andserson since they were kids, making them the obvious choices to star alongside him, and after several rounds of improvisation and editing, he and Sprague ended up with a script that showcases the absurdities of such casually accepted racial dynamics.
“When those roles are straight, people kind of take them for granted,” King said. By turning them on their head, he aimed to give viewers the same feeling he has while watching any number films. “We wanted to provide that experience for the white viewers out there.”
But sometimes it takes a healthy dose of comedy to make the sour medicine go down, King argues. By making the short funny, he could make viewers more receptive to its message.
Which is especially helpful, given that he freely admits, “One of our intentions was to offend.”