From 2010 to 2017, Asili produced a five-part series of short films he titled “The Diaspora Suite,” which paired American and international locations in an exploration of the African diaspora: Hudson, Harlem, Ocean City, and Detroit; Ethiopia, Ghana, Brazil, and Jamaica. His 2013 film “American Hunger” featured Philadelphia, and that’s where Asili returns here. A film shaped by Asili’s own time in a Black liberationist group, “The Inheritance” introduces a scripted frame story about 20something Julian (Eric Lockley), who inherits his grandmother’s home in West Philadelphia. The place is a treasure trove of books, records, films, artwork, posters, magazines, and all kinds of other cultural relics related to the African diaspora and the Black American experience. Asili deliberately shares the names of these authors, artists, and activities by composing shots in which these books and records are centered alone in the frame: Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Charles Mingus, Alice Walker, Stokely Carmichael, Ruby Dee, Angela Davis, W. E. B. Du Bois, Max Roach, Nikki Giovanni, Margaret Walker, Calvin Hernton, Sonia Sanchez, Ursula Rucker (the latter two women appear in the film, as well)—and those aren’t even half of whom “The Inheritance” references.
You could build an entire curriculum out of this “archive of Black thought,” as Asili says in the film’s press notes, and that is essentially what Julian does. In a telling moment, his first conversation with girlfriend Gwen (Nozipho Mclean) includes his praise of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 film “The Sacrifice,” which didn’t interest her in the least; when Julian digs into the work of so many Black artists, though, Tarkovsky doesn’t come up again. And with so much space on their hands, Gwen makes a suggestion: What if they open the home’s doors to roommates who are also interested in living collaboratively, in dividing up expenses, and in devoting their lives to furthering awareness of and appreciation for the works of so many pivotal Black thinkers? Doesn’t the community deserve a space like this? Don’t they, as a group of Black Americans interested in the past that helped shape them, deserve such a place, too?
So they spruce up the space (which was actually built on a black box studio in Troy, New York, with every element of the rowhome handpicked by Asili) and then invite people in. The house, now dubbed the House of Ubuntu, is brightly decorated, with each room painted a different primary color, African-patterned fabric hung up as window curtains, and the living room transformed into a community library. In a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film “La Chinoise,” a poster for the film—about a group of young Maoists in Paris—hangs in the House of Ubuntu’s kitchen. And “The Inheritance” follows these characters as they attempt to live together communally, despite sometimes-clashing personalities. Julian allows his skeptical friend Rich (Chris Jarrell) to move in, but Rich and Gwen can’t stand each other. Stephanie (Aniya Picou) and Gwen become closer friends while living together, with Stephanie complaining to Gwen about a recent date she had with a white woman who expected Stephanie to be impressed by her interest in Black art (“It’s so funny how hurt white people are when they love a Black movie and you say you don’t like it”). Musicians Old Head (Julian Rozzell Jr.) and Jamel (Timothy Trumpet Jr.) mostly jam together, which can sometimes irritate others—like Jamel hogging the bathroom because he likes how the acoustics sound when he plays trumpet—but also inspires, as it does housemates Patricia (Nyabel Lual) and Janet (Aurielle Akerele) to learn more about music.