Natasha Ofili’s short film The Multi (2022) [trailer link] is centered around a Black Deaf woman coming to terms with her childhood trauma and its impacts on her present. This film was shot in ASL and English and produced by a majority Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) team, including the Director, Producer, and Lead Actor. Accessibility was paramount to production, and a hybrid model was used combining in-person and virtual collaboration. This film demonstrates an intentional commitment to disability access and inclusion, furthered by including image descriptions in instagram posts promoting the film.
As the title hints, multiplicity is a theme of the film – including the literal multiplicity of the main character (described in more detail below the spoiler cut) serving as a focal point. Too often “diverse” media representation focuses on plugging in characters with marginalized identities to fill a quota; The Multi stands out by directly centering the full life of a Black Deaf woman where these identities and experiences seamlessly interact and guide the narrative.
This film embraces its roots in Black womanhood, which inform the depiction of both surviving and thriving after trauma. By centering intersectionality1, this film challenges viewers alongside the protagonist to question our relationships to our own and other’s pain: what does it mean to praise resilience – both in ourselves and others? What is the cost of enduring violence? Are we restricting our growth? How might we learn from centering our joy?
The Multi appeared at several film festivals this year, including Slamdance, Toronto Black Film Festival, Black Women Film Network Short Film Festival, British Urban Film Festival, and Superfest Disability Film Festival, and will be shown through Film Africa’s partnership with Deaffest on November 3rd in the UK2. Its success highlights that the film industry is eager for authentic media exploring complex identities and experiences. Honoring complexity authentically is challenging, especially with the aspiration that the end product is something “many can relate to…any human being.”3
The Multi features non-graphic mentions of trauma and child abuse at the hands of a parent, as well as scenes depicting distress, yelling, and compulsive organizing.
The film introduces us to protagonist Amara carefully arranging her apartment and appearance – the image of control. Through video calls with her (unnamed) younger sister, a narrative unfolds: an upcoming wedding threatens to bring her into close contact with her father. While Amara is resistant to attending the wedding at his home, she agrees to come and stifles her emotional response.
As the film continues, we see our protagonist Amara take on a more spirited and social role, donning red lipstick and colorful, flowing clothing, having a virtual date, and dancing through her apartment. She is more relaxed and joyful – a stark transformation from the more reserved and meticulous person depicted at the beginning of the film.
Amara’s sister reaches out for a conversation, and reveals that someone named Sade told her about abuse perpetrated by their father in childhood and apologizes for having included him in the wedding. This revelation horrifies Amara, who shuts down the conversation and flees. In the bathroom mirror – a hallmark for DID/MPD cinema – Sade is revealed to be sharing Amara’s body as she confronts her directly and they argue about their different approaches to their shared life.
While the director is vague about the nature of their plurality – stating that the main character “suffer[s] some sort of mental illness”4 – it is clearly a large component of Amara’s survival after her childhood trauma. The confrontation between Amara and Sade frames their relationship as one where Sade is there to support Amara’s trauma recovery, repairing and building connections while embracing the pursuit of joy in stark contrast to Amara’s regimen of controlled affect and presentation. This carries the film’s ending focusing on empowerment: Sade asserting “you matter” and “I’m here for you” despite protests from Amara.
It is hard not to notice the contrast between The Multi and last year’s Superfest short film CODA (2019), which centered on the troubled identity and empowerment of a hearing CODA protagonist who feigns deafness in order to romance a Deaf man – written and directed by Erika-Davis Marsh, a hearing person who is not herself a CODA. Here, Deafness is not romantized or idealized, yet it is integral to the vision of healing and personal growth presented. Romance is also used for identity tension in The Multi; Sade & Amara argue over dating preferences illustrating their differences.
Plural viewers may be sensitive to the (not-entirely-unfounded) trope of the romantic or sexual alter. Sade displays more nuanced motivations — let’s not mistake sensuality with sexuality. And while her reveal may be reminiscent of excessive use of multiplicity for shock value, Sade isn’t the stereotypical evil or murderous alter either; rather, she is a sensitive, engaging, and caring person and her reveal is centered around growth from trauma. Plurals – with and without a dissociative disorder – may find resonance with our own journeys of healing as similar internal dynamics are common.
Much of what this film demonstrates about growth from trauma is rooted not in endurance, but in softness: a lesson that cannot be divorced from the film’s roots in Black womanhood. Amara, the epitome of resilience, burns herself out trying to suppress her vulnerabilities and present a strong and unemotional front. She prioritizes her sister’s desires over her own needs, withholding truth about her trauma from her sister that may expose her and her family to further harm. Sade, on the other hand, is unapologetically soft: she embraces the sensual and social and centers her and Amara’s own joy and safety. It is her softness that provides both Amara and Sade the means to heal, showing her that survival is not only found through endurance, but through embracing their own value. Through Sade’s signs we see an echo of the words of bell hooks: “to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, … endurance is not to be confused with transformation.”5
It may be tempting to try to simplify The Multi as primarily a Deaf, Black, female, or mental-health centered film, but its power lies in the fact that it is all of these – in its multiplicity. Be on the lookout for Ofili, as certainly more engaging filmwork is due to come.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “The Urgency of Intersectionality.” Kimberlé Crenshaw: The Urgency of Intersectionality | TED Talk, TED Conferences, LLC, https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality/transcript. Content note for discussion of violent misogynoir and police brutality
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- “THE MULTI.” NIOVISION Productions, https://www.niovision.com/themulti. Accessed October 25, 2022
- Hooks, Bell. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. South End Press, 1999.