Presented by the Public Theater
A part of the Under the Radar Festival
By Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall
Directed and Produced by Taibi Magar & Tyler Dobrowsky
Original text and music, Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall
Director of photography: Jess Coles
Editing by Josiah Davis, Lowell Thomas
Sound design by Broken Chord, Lee Kinney
Review by Kitty Drexel
YouTube – The emotional violence inherent in White & Kendall’s pandemic-diary, fringe film Capusule reminds me of the car crash scene from 1975’s Mahagony. Diana Ross and Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame) star in this movie about haute fashion, modeling and the heart’s desires. Perkins, a narcissistic photographer with mommy-issues, crashes a cherry red convertible into a construction site with the incomparable Ross and he in it. She, our hero, eventually leaves Perkins and her promising career for a politician played by Billy Dee Williams. The writing in this movie is not clever.
Four minutes into Capsule, White and Kendall tell us that they are stand-ins for our own pandemic experiences. We can imagine that they are someone else if it helps us understand Capsule. Become them and they will become us, they say. It’s a helpful mentaphor… Then Breonna Taylor flashes across the screen.
In that exact moment, any white person watching should know that they cannot and should not identify with Whitney White. As a queer, disabled, white woman committed to dismantling my inherent racism, I refuse to identify with Kendall. This show isn’t for me and that’s okay. I can still appreciate it and so can you.
White channels Ross’s glamour and passion. Anthem “7 Gen” is a showstopper and deserves its own music video. She’s the better storyteller in prose and song. I strongly related to the moment when she opened a pint of Haagen-Dazs and blankly looked into the camera. I can’t know what it is to be a Black woman but I do know what it is to feed a sugar and cream craving while staring down the darkness of my own thoughts.
Kendall is the random white dude next to her soaking up credits while she does all of the hard work… We don’t know why we’re supposed to listen to him while White performs all of the emotional labor. He’s the guy pushing buttons while she sings her heart out. It’s almost always an awkward white guy playing the piano or guitar or whatever. It’s normal for there to be at least one in any given space acting like he belongs there.
And we assume this (not because a Black woman and a white man can’t be friends but because white men are so good at unapologetically consuming space that we assume that no one invited them) until the end of the film when Kendall publicly, painfully confronts his whiteness. More than the universality of pandemic grief or his button pushing, this all too brief scene validates Kendall’s presence. He’s not just taking up someone else’s space; he’s providing real insight into white passivity amidst the #BLM movement. It’s too bad for Kendall that we don’t see this until the end of the film. It smacks too much of white people’s reluctance to get involved in the saving of Black lives.
The music from Capsule was my favorite part. It’s on Spotify under the band name ww+ pmk. I’ve listened to “Things Are Not Fine” on repeat. The audio quality is great.
I enjoyed Capsule more on the second viewing once I understood it as a visual diary or zine. I was able to understand its many parts better within the context of the whole piece. Not all pandemic art is going to have universal appeal. That is okay. As audience members, we can appreciate works for us and then move on. Capsule is available to watch on the Public’s YouTube channel through January 17.