Exhibiting Forgiveness Paints a Stunning Portrait About Forgiveness [Sundance]

Exhibiting Forgiveness still of Tarrell (André Holland) and Aisha (Andra Day) sitting on a bench holding hands.

Exhibiting Forgiveness, playing at Sundance Film Festival, is a vibrant movie that uses every facet of filmmaking to capture the emotional landscape of its story. Beautifully directed, the film centers around a Black artist whose estranged father, a recovering addict, visits unexpectedly. The movie builds slowly, taking precious time to underscore the warmth in Tarrell’s (André Holland) life. Yet there’s a current of discomfort despite this. Striking and moving, with a soft, sometimes discordant score and phenomenal performances, Exhibiting Forgiveness is exquisite, taking a slightly different turn surrounding religion and forgiveness.  

Written and directed by Titus Kaphar, the movie focuses on the toll addiction and abuse take on a family, in particular, a kid. It also highlights the lies people tell to forgive or seek forgiveness. Part of the film is predictable, using certain well-trod tropes to propel the latter half, which is where Exhibiting Forgiveness falters. However, it comes back by the time the credits roll.

Exhibiting Forgiveness Shows the Impact of Addiction

Exhibiting Forgiveness photo of director Titus Kaphar.
Titus Kaphar, director of Exhibiting Forgiveness, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mario Sorrenti.

While yes drug addiction is a disease, it does not change the harm addiction causes. Initially, the film transitions from Tarrell’s life with his family to that of a homeless man, La’Ron (John Earl Jelks). While helping a local store owner against a robber, he sustains injuries. It’s apparent this is Tarrell’s father, but after getting assistance from a family member, La’Ron attends church regularly and celebrates six months of sobriety. 

As Tarrell visits his mom, Joyce (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), with his wife, Aisha (Andra Day), and young son, Jermaine (Daniel Michael Barriere), in tow, he tries to block out flashes of the past. But harm lives in the body and the mind, impossible to escape, so he wakes up struggling to breathe as his wife helps him through a panic attack. Through some flashbacks but also Tarrell’s art pieces and glimpses of his childhood self, viewers piece together the harm caused by La’Ron. 

Dynamic Performances Dazzle On Screen

The acting in Exhibiting Forgiveness is dynamite. André Holland is crucial to the story, delivering a nuanced yet simmered portrayal. His anger and distrust in dealing with an estranged father he hasn’t seen in fifteen years is understandable. But it’s also disbelief Holland emotes as his mom, Joyce, uses religious scripture to justify forgiving his father. John Earl Jelks balances tragic but also unforgivable. 

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor is the type of actress where yelling, “Oh my god, that’s acting,” becomes standard each time she appears onscreen. She brings both a regality and realness. Even though her role as his mother adds a layer of disappointment, it’s impossible not to sympathize. She believes that those she loves can be and do better. Andra Day is sweet, and her largely calm acting shows that she is the center of gravity for Tarrell. Though underutilized, her moments in Exhibiting Forgiveness are a delight. 

Death for Growth

Exhibiting Forgiveness still of Tarrell (André Holland) and Aisha (Andra Day) sitting on a bench holding hands.
André Holland and Andra Day appear in Exhibiting Forgiveness by Titus Kaphar, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Without spoiling the film, there is an issue too many movies do. They use the harm or death of a Black woman—looking at you, Black Panther 2—to propel the main character. It’s tiresome and often unnecessary. It feels that way here. Certain realizations can come without tragedy. While this film has many stunning aspects, from the performances, music, direction, and score, it still felt like a misplaced decision. 

No one should take away from this film that abuse is acceptable if there’s love. Each person must want and demand better for themselves. Forgiveness is not always attainable, nor should it be. If forgiveness is a given, no one would bother changing. Exhibiting Forgiveness is about a man striving to let go of horrific childhood moments and using his art to purge those memories.  

Exhibiting Forgiveness captures the reality of life with an addicted parent while using artistic leeway to emphasize trauma. It’s beautifully shot, and the cast is phenomenal, bringing a dramatic and painful story to life with every scene. Titus Kaphar creates a story about one Black family, the challenge to move past painful memories, and what forgiveness is about. 

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