At a young age, Cornelius Walker underwent a profound crisis of identity. After being exposed to the murder of an 11-year old boy much like himself in his hometown in London, Cornelius' family swiftly relocated to the suburbs. It was there that he first encountered ugly displays of flagrant racism. Struggling to find his place in an uncertain world, he attempted to assimilate with the same clusters of kids who were taunting and demoralizing him. The unusual arc of his young life, and the lessons he's taken along the way, form the basis of the revealing documentary Black Sheep.
In the face of escalating racial tensions, Cornelius began to resent the fact that he was black. He didn't feel embraced in his daily life, and that translated into uneasiness over his appearance. He was determined to adapt a more European look that he believed would feel more mainstream and acceptable among his peer group. He applied generous heaps of skin whitener and donned piercing blue contacts. He altered his personality and his natural manner of speaking.
His scheme worked. Soon, he gained favor with the teenage racists in the neighborhood, as well as their families. It was an odd dynamic that temporarily alleviated some of his demons, but paved the way for others to emerge. He remained passive as the group tormented other children of color, because acceptance was his foremost goal. "You're talking about a black kid being accepted by racists," Cornelius confesses. "It felt good."
The need for approval among his parents and peer group informed much of the dysfunction that distorted Cornelius' image of himself as a youth. Staring into the camera and delivering a raw and haunting testimony, he approaches the narrative of his life with deep regret, brutal honesty and touching vulnerability. Above all, he speaks of his desire for unconditional love. At the end of this phase in his life, his truest gift was learning to love himself regardless of the prejudiced judgments of others.
Featuring beautifully rendered reenactments and soulful commentary from Cornelius himself, Black Sheep is a harrowing character portrait. Its lessons are universal.
Directed by: Ed Perkins