Justin Tipping explores materialism, masculinity and violence with “Kicks”

Last night I was transplanted back to my high school days–the days where the sneakers on my feet really mattered–thanks to newcomer Justin Tipping’s Tribeca Film Festival feature debut. “Kicks”, a story about a young boy who will do just about anything for a pair of Jordans, was chosen as the festival’s opening-night selection and won the award for Best Cinematography. And, after watching the hour and 20 minute film it’s easy to see why it won the award.

“Kicks” follows Brandon, played by Jahking Guillory, a quiet 15-year-old from the Bay Area of California. He’s shorter than his peers, scrawny, shy, and more financially unstable than the rest of his classmates, which is highlighted and emphasized by the sneakers that are on his feet. While everyone else is wearing the newest SBs or Jordans, he’s sporting some dollar general white skippies that have more holes in them than Swiss cheese. It’s almost a shocker, when we see him hanging out with the “ladies man” played by Christopher Meyer and the funny, outgoing character played by Christopher Jordan Wallace.

*spoiler alerts ahead*

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Eventually Brandon blows all of his saved money on the first-ever created Jordans: the red and black bred 1s after he is warned, “these cost more than your entire life”. That one quote foreshadows how the rest of the film is going to pan out, and it’s quite smart on Tipping’s behalf. Brandon is now on top of the world and feels like the man; he gets what seems like his first kiss and even feels more respected. That is until the neighborhood thug “Flaco” (played by Kofi Siriboe) jumps him, records it for Youtube, and takes his sneakers.

The film follows his journey on getting the sneakers back, and in the beginning it’s solely for the principle of not “getting got”. Eventually, the plot becomes more complicated as we see Brandon going through an ego and power struggle. It then becomes more of a masculinity fight; the urge to prove to the world that he is a “man” by going out and getting what is his. Tipping incorporates violence, which is a very normal thing in the Bay and Oakland area, to also highlight the connection between that and defining masculinity.

Justin Tipping mentions in a earlier interview, “it became more of, why is masculinity in our society always synonymous with violence? That’s something I wanted to explore, the cycle of violence and how it’s perpetuated. I try to focus the world [in the film] around those themes.”

You see the need for each character to hold their own, defend their name or reputation and be the toughest of their circle. Brandon, who has never done any of the above, is faced with whether or not he is ready to grow up. We see that, when his friends ask him if he “got a hit in”, when he was originally jumped by Flaco. It continues on, when even his uncle calls him a “pu**y” for not having any run-ins with the law. Brandon, the “good boy”, has now been set up to question whether or not this wholesome reputation is working for him.

While the film arguably throws in some questionable scenes and dialogue that almost reach too far on the “I want to impress my crowd scale, Tipping beautifully incorporates the every day struggle many kids from that area face. He effortlessly highlights the materialistic world we live in simply by showcasing what’s on everyone’s feet. And, even when you want to hate the “bad guy”, he casts a glimpse of why you, maybe, shouldn’t. Life in the bay area is a viscous cycle, however, Tipping also highlights how important and constructive music and fashion are to enhancing one’s life. He gives us little tid bits of popular and relevant songs from artists including E-40, Biggie, Jay-z, Kendrick Lamar, and 2Pac, which intentionally blend with and support each scene it’s connected to.

While “Kicks” leaves you at the end with so many questions, “were the sneakers real?”, “why is their an astronaut?”, “why didn’t Brandon do xyz”, etc. etc., it promotes thoughts. It entices you to question what was the whole movie even about. Why did Brandon go through everything he did (and put his friends through the same) all for a pair of sneakers? Then, you realize… society affects the way we think and carry oursleves in so many different aspects, and, being a child with less fortune than others, increases the chances of society controlling our actions.

“Kicks” makes you wonder when did violence equate to masculinity and power? Why do poorer neighborhoods fight each other versus work together? Tipping uses “Kicks” as the perfect way for us to relate to a topic that’s constantly talked about then brushed under the rug. It’s the same feel we get from movies like “Dope” and “Fruitvale Station”. And, while “Kicks” not quite as touching or moving as those predecessors, it can definitely fall into the overall category.

Focus World will be releasing “Kicks” in theaters on September 9, 2016. Check out the trailer below.

 

Special thanks to Genius for holding the advanced movie screening.

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