When you’re a creative, you always feel like you’re running out of time to make it. You feel like you have to make it by a certain age or else you’re a failure. It’s an immense amount of pressure that we not only put upon ourselves but that others do too. And it sucks, especially for Black women who have to fight twice as hard to get anywhere in life. In Radha Blank’s debut film “The Forty Year Old Version” she grabs hold of the stigma of being “too old”, wrestles it to the ground and proves that when you believe in yourself you can do anything.
At 39 years old, our protagonist Radha feels lost in her life as she struggles to stay afloat. She has dreams and they’re always dangling right out of her reach. When she was younger, she had potential and was a rising star in the playwright world. But she fell off and hasn’t been able to correctly get back on since. It happens. Radha isn’t ready to give up though. While teaching a group of rowdy teens as a way to pay bills, she and her best friend, since high school, Archie try to get her career back on track and help her find a way to a place that makes her feel good.
After a less than stellar attempt at networking to get her play produced, Radha shifts her gaze from theater to music and decides that she wants to make a mixtape. Absolutely no one is supportive of her, which isn’t surprising but still, Radha finds herself someone willing to produce beats for her to rap over and she sets off on her newest adventure: becoming a rapper. She even finds someone to not only understand her on a romantic level, but on a level of grief as well. D may seem like just another rapping nigga but after hanging out a few times he proves to be the most solid person she could have in her life.
While it could be assumed that The Forty Year Old Version is a story about making your dreams come true later in life, it’s really more about coming to know who are and not settling for anything less than what you deserve. Radha Blank took her own experiences, shaped them a bit to fit the narrative of the film, and used them to shine some light on just how hard it is for Black women to gain any kind of traction in the world. We have to bend and stretch and compromise ourselves to be even given chances, while others are able to simply float into a space and be accepted right away.
My favorite thing about this film is the way it allows a Black woman to be a whole person. Radha is not perfect, sometimes she’s not even nice. But she’s allowed to experience her emotions, dwell on her failures and stew in her anger. She makes mistakes and she’s a bit of a chaotic mess but she’s trying. Underneath everything she’s got going on in her life, Radha is still that little mommy’s girl who looked up to everything her mom did. She just wants to make her mother proud, even if it’s in spirit only. And that’s valid. It’s beautiful to be able to watch a Black woman unpack her own story without the threat of unnecessary violence or death lurking in the shadows as “plot”.
One of the best thing about The Forty Year Old Version is the way that seamlessly blends its comedy into the serious tone the film takes by being in black and white. By all accounts, it is a serious movie. Radha is struggling, in some aspects she’s failing. Teaching just to not be homeless while drowning in the theater world. Her play is good but to get it on the stage to be seen she has to comprise it to the point she hates her own work. Honestly, this movie should enrage everyone who has ever had a dream taken and twisted into a shadow of what it is to be; but instead when the credits roll the audience is left with a sense of understanding and comfort. Radha isn’t the huge successful star she dreams of being but she’s not so restlessly unhappy that it hurts. And that’s all I can ever want for Black women, to be in a place where they don’t have settle.
The Forty Year Old Version is now available on Netflix.
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