‘Mickey Hardaway’ Takes a Hard Look at Mental Health in the Black Community

At a time when we’re digging deep into the effects of mental health struggles and trauma on people in the Black community, men especially, it means a lot to see a film like Mickey Hardaway that takes it that extra step forward to outright show us. From writer and director Marcellus Cox, this film follows the story of a young artist who grapples with years of physical and emotional abuse in his life while attempting to make a place for himself in the artistic world. 

The film stars Rashad Hunter as the titular character Mickey as he begins therapy to unpack years of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his father. Mickey has gifts as an artist and a relationship that makes him happy, but that doesn’t negate that his past is affecting him. Particularly, his temper. When his college sweetheart notices the anger that is bubbling under the surface, she suggests that Mickey seeks therapy as a means to heal from his tumultuous childhood. 

Let’s take a second to talk about the cinematography. The film is showcased in black and white for the most part, with only a singular section being in color. This gives the film a sense of tension, making the viewer feel like they’re anticipating something the entire watch through. This is true as the film opens with a scene that shows a significant event before transitioning to showing viewers the events that lead up to it. This is what makes this a film noir while at the same time being a psychological examination of Mickey. Taken in isolation, the opening scene could make Mickey seem like a villain when the situation isn’t that simple. The one sequence that we see in color is a time of pure happiness. No other shoe to drop, no trauma to be seen. It’s a respite in a chorus of hurt. It’s a moment to breathe easy for both us and Mickey. 

As can be expected, there are some jarring, even triggering, aspects to this film, including gun violence, which appears very early on. But there are also instances of extreme anger, physical abuse, threats of violence, emotional and mental abuse, and even an instance in which Mickey is put in an unfair situation within his work. Workplace mistreatment is indeed a tough subject for a lot of people because it’s so common. We don’t talk about it in depth with the same seriousness as relationship and familial mistreatment. But this film does broach the subject with the same level of seriousness as the other trauma that Mickey holds, and that is something to appreciate. This film makes it clear that your boss or someone in a position of authority using and playing with your career as they see fit is traumatic. You deserve the space to speak about and heal from that. 

One of the consistent throughlines of the film is how Mickey’s relationship with his father shapes him and his image of himself and his passions. Mickey’s dreams are consistently belittled by his father to the point where his father blocks him from opportunities. If not for the presence of a persistent teacher who sees and nurtures Mickey’s artistic aspirations, Mickey probably would not have seriously pursued his career. Anyone with a teacher who believed in them and encouraged them in this way can relate to the morale boost that this can be. Having someone look at your talents and say that they do mean something can be the difference between throwing a passion to the side and continuing to find joy in it. 

If you recognize this kind of cinematography and storytelling, you’re not alone. Mickey Hardaway has a similar style to an early Spike Lee work, She’s Gotta Have It. The black and white visuals paired with the biographical storytelling make the two works similar. This is not a bad thing as the overall style makes the film great for post-viewing discussion and analytical thinking. What could have saved Mickey from his ultimate fate? Where did his parents go wrong? Is the love of one singular person, no matter how sincere, enough to heal a person of their trauma? All the building blocks of these conversations are nestled in this story about a young man’s life. It’s something that makes the film a good candidate for repeat viewing, perhaps seeing things in the early parts of Mickey’s story that might have gotten away from you the first time around. 

Mickey Hardaway made its debut on the festival circuit but it will be released on streaming August 25, 2023, on the streaming service Indie Rights. If you’re a fan of psychological studies and the discussion surrounding mental health in the Black community, give Mickey Hardaway a viewing when it releases. It’s a film that was made with a lot of heart and grace. 

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