Stanley Kalu was still a senior in college when The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, his feature film debut, premiered. The film itself was a stand out at the Toronto International Film Festival that year, in 2019, as it dealt with police brutality, as well as the intersectional experience of being both Black and queer. It centered on Tunde, a Nigerian-American teen in Southern California dealing with coming out to his parents, a boyfriend he's been keeping a secret, and drugs. But the project is on a loop of sorts as Tunde finds himself living, and then reliving his own death at the hands of police time and time again.
Now, Kalu's project is readying for a widespread release as Out premieres the film's trailer.
Having been awarded Next Wave at TIFF, and won the Audience Award at Outfest, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson stars 13 Reasons Why's Steven Silver as Tunde, Nicola Peltz as his longtime friend Marley, and Spencer Neville as Soren O'Connor, the closeted boyfriend. The project will release in theaters where available and be available digitally on February 26th. It puts on screen the sort of looping coverage Black communities go through regularly, watching unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on the news or social media time after time. The sickly evergreen nature of the film can be emphasized by the fact that the film won The Launch Million Dollar Competition in 2018 — there it picked up not only a budge of at least $1 million but a director in Emmy Award-winning Ali LeRoi, and Kalu got an agent and manager representation; — it premiered at TIFF in 2019; and it is being made available widely this month, less than a year after the Black Lives Matter movement was reignited after a rash of killings.
“I wanted to piece together these experiences of violence that I've seen … to show what life is like against death and what it feels like to be devalued and to constantly die every day, which I think is the experience of [people of color] in America,” Kalu told Out in 2019 of the project. “Maybe people would stop being such assholes.”
And while Americans may view the project mostly from that experience, as Kalu was born in Nigeria, there is also.a distinctly queer version to see it through as well.
“I had all these feelings and kept seeing people that look like me die every day in America,” he said. “And then back home, it's not like here. Queer people die in the same way.”
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson will be released in theaters and on demand by Wolfe Releasing on February 26th.