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November 16, 2017

‘Morris from America’ explores teen angst and the struggles of growing up

('Morris from America' Official Facebook Page)

(‘Morris from America’ Official Facebook Page)

“Morris from America” opens with an intergenerational dispute between father and son about hip-hop, a playful argument about beat, flow and hook. The father accuses his son of liking music that is too pop and lacking a message, while the son criticizes his father for listening to music that’s too slow and has no beat.

Morris (Markees Christmas) is a 13-year-old boy struggling to find his place in the picturesque German town of Heidelberg where he is the only black person in a sea of blondes and redheads. His father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), has relocated the family to Germany where he coaches for a local soccer team that he used to play for. Like his son, Curtis is also struggling to find his place as a widowed man who still struggles to cope with the loss of his wife.

Morris encounters the typical adolescent trifecta of bullying, loneliness and having a crush on an unattainable girl. What adds depth to the story is the way in which Christmas portrays his character. His acting is subtle, yet it perfectly captures a full range of emotions without falling into the trap of being one-dimensional.

Beyond the traditional adolescent narrative there is the racial tension stemming from Morris’ status as a black teen in an all-white neighborhood. His race is often used to define him. Morris is accused of dealing drugs by the supervisor at the youth center, and his peers mockingly assume he’s good at basketball, a hip-hop star and sexually prowessed.

“Morris” presents German racism as of a different variety than American racism. The young Germans in the film are convinced that they have moved beyond any form of discrimination within their society. They consider the various stereotypes they place onto Morris to be compliments or simply observations about his abilities and interests.

Even though writer-director Chad Hartigan handles issues of race with a delicate touch, he never fully addresses the impact such racism has on young black men. Morris’ father reminds his son to stay out of trouble because it won’t take much to give people a reason to look down upon him or hurt him. But Hartigan curtails the opportunity to delve deeper into the reasons why Morris needs to take such precautions and how society at large seems stacked against him.

It seems that no one is truly interested in getting to know Morris for who he truly is, only for the various tropes and stereotypes that are associated with him. This only increases his feelings of isolation and unhappiness.

This prompts Morris to write a rap for the youth center talent show depicting a lifestyle of struggling for money and endless women; a lifestyle he has never experienced. This provokes a confrontation with his father, who berates Morris for not writing about his own life and what he actually knows. Curtis tells his son that the most powerful lyrics come from one’s lived experience, not the imitation of someone else’s.

Ultimately the film depicts the strength of familial bonds between father and son. As Curtis puts it, he and Morris are “the only brothers in Heidelberg” so they need to stick together. The love they have for one another lifts the movie out of its somewhat bleak reflections on adolescence and leaves the audience with hope for the future.

It is this father-son relationship that provides the most gratifying experience in the film. Both men are lonely, Curtis from losing his wife and Morris from moving to a new place, and really the only person they have is one another. As the film closes it becomes evident that their relationship goes beyond family; they are one another’s best friends.

This realization creeps up on the viewer and leaves them with a warm feeling, even if the examination of racism only scratches the surface. Overall, “Morris from America” is a feel good film that will have you rooting for the title character by its finish.

Krystal Kilhart can be reached at


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