Updated: Dec 5, 2019
The first images of Solace consist of a woman's flesh wrapped in plastic wrap,
it reminds one of packaged supermarket meat. It's disturbing to see a human in packaging material and as I watched I thought of how creepy it would be to buy a hacked off breast or thigh on bumpy styrofoam at the local store. Then I realized that I've done that many times. A lot of us have. The truth is that any living thing in a flesh suit can be commoditized and consumed. Even us.
The amazing thing that Tchaiko Omawale has done with this film is not just to allow the viewer to see American consumption through the eyes of the main character Sole played by Hope Olaide Wilson, but to feel the weight and violence of that consumption. We see her burdened by the impending death of her father and finding a desperate type of comfort in the junk food that holds her together. After his death she's shipped off to her estranged grandmother played by the amazing Lynn Whitfield and her adventures in the odd world of the suburbs begins.
What was strange was how familiar the landscape of Black suburbia was, I realized I had never seen my experience on film before. Ever. The scope of American filmmaking posits the Black experience as urban and poor. The suburbs are always portrayed as a white landscape with a few token representations of color. I was struck how I have accepted this uneven vision in film even though my own experience of growing up in California was decidedly middle class. As Sole navigated through finding a dysfunctional type of peer group with her beautiful queer neighbor and explored the alternative Black club scene I felt an odd sensation... I felt seen. It was a new feeling. How odd that in 2019 it is still possible to have so little of Black life in America portrayed. How odd that we are still defined by poverty created by previous conditions of enslavement and yet the subject of enslavement and economic discrimination are taboo and not discussed or taught in history class. If the U.S. were a supermarket the commodity for many decades was us. We were the packaged meat.
It's a beautiful thing to be seen. To be recognized as a viable human being. Solace is a strange and beautiful film. Not because it is unfamiliar but because it illuminates how unexcavated our experiences still are.
As Sole's stress levels climb so does her eating disorder. The food that provided comfort becomes an albatross that pulls her deeper into depression. As I watched I began to wonder how many of the strong Black women in my family have unhealthy relationships with food & how the negative focus on Black bodies and weight gain must create more dysfunction and pain. Just as the suburbs have been portrayed as a white landscape the world of eating disorders are the property of white culture. Black women don't have eating disorders, a disorder implies that sympathy and empathy are needed. Black women just get called fat. Or lazy. Or both.
About the Writer/Director/Producer
Tchaiko grew up in seven countries while her father worked for UNICEF. She graduated from Columbia University then interned for Spike Lee and Mira Nair. While assisting directors George C. Wolfe and Tom Vaughan she directed several short form projects.
Tchaiko was awarded the Gaea Sea Change Residency for artists working for social change. Her feature film Solace was a Semi-Finalist for Sundance Writers Lab 2012; a recipient of the Panavision New Filmmakers Program 2015; In 2016 the project participated in Tribeca All Access, the IFP Narrative Lab, the Creative Visions Creative Activist Program and Big Vision Empty Wallet diversity program.
In 2017 it was a Women In Film grantee and a Film Independent Efilm/Company 3 grant winner. Solace premiered at the LA Film Festival 2018 winning Special Jury Mention Best Ensemble Cast. It is currently on the festival circuit and won New Orleans Film Festival Audience Award. Tchaiko was a 2017 School of Making Thinking Resident fellow where she created the VR film Shapeshifters. In between her independent projects she produces and directs commercials and branded content.
You can see her work here: www.tchaiko.com