“The 40-year-old Version” Takes A Comedic Look at Black Artistry at an Older Age

A film about creative roadblocks and the stress of societal pressures, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is Director Radha Blank’s take on what it means to be a female Black artist in today’s world. 


The film, which began streaming on the online service platform Netflix Oct. 2, pokes fun at Blank who, despite having great success as a playwright in her younger years, hasn’t made any noteworthy works in nearly a decade and has ultimately gone unnoticed by her peers. 


Netflix describes the character in its synopsis, writing:


“Radha, a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. But when she foils what seems like her last shot at success, she’s left with no choice but to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime. ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ follows Radha as she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater on a quest to find her true voice.”


In many ways, the film, shot in black-and-white, is a creative depiction of Blank’s real-life journey to cultivate success as she grows older. 


During an interview with Backstage, Blank spoke on the obstacles she’s had maintaining success and defeating negative thoughts.


“After getting fired, I felt like I wasn’t in control of what I was making as an artist,” she said. “I needed very desperately to create something of my own.”


Earlier this month, the writer and director told The Guardian her character is “about 65%” similar to herself. 


All too aware of the stigma that comes with reaching a certain age, Blank, 44, told ESSENCE Magazine she hopes that “the film gives people of a certain age permission to dive deeper into who they are and what they could possibly do with their lives.


The film also puts a comedic spin on what it’s like working as a Black woman in a White-dominated industry. Blank is under the management of a white producer who states one of her pieces “rang inauthentic”  in connection with the Black experience. 


Blank’s comedic approach isn’t too far off from the actual reality artists of color experience. A 2018 study released by the Asian-American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC)  reported that African American Playwrights wrote 4.1% of the plays and musicals produced that Broadway season. Directors of color represented at 5% and were almost all African-American directors.


Following wins at the Sundance Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival, one could argue that Blank has found her way. 


Blank attributes some of her success to the friends that helped her film flourish.


“I don’t know that I would’ve made this film if it wasn’t for Lena [Waithe]  trusting me with my own vision,” she said as a panelist at the ESSENCE Festival of Culture’s Entertainment All Access program.


Blank, who lost her mother prior to the release of the film, used the creative project as a therapeutic tool to cope with the loss. Blank also noted the appearance of family members and personal items throughout the film.

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