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‘Words We Don’t Say’ is a tender exploration of Black father and daughter relationships

Through nostalgia and with nuance, Ella Ezeike's film creates space for unheard narratives.

10 Nov 2022

For our November installment of Shorties we are showcasing Words We Don’t Say, written and directed by Ella Ezeike. Being the Nigerian-American’s second short film, Words We Don’t Say takes a soft approach to looking at the difficulties of Black intergenerational communication, specifically told through the relationship of an estranged father and daughter. Ezeike’s film questions whether reconciliation can be achieved despite having a strained connection and positions itself in understanding the complexities of Black fatherhood.

Ezeike’s film explores many crossroads – Blackness, Black fatherhood, Black girlhood – all of which contain their own nuances and questions. However, the film doesn’t feel conflated or excessive. “I wanted to create this story as a therapy for myself and others,” says Ezeike. “Hopefully those who watch it can find some sort of healing.”

Words We Don’t Say takes its title literally. The father, portrayed by Sean McPherson, narrates a spoken-word poem in a letter to his daughter, played by Kibrea Carmichael. They are the words he can’t say aloud but wishes to. Like a diary entry, the film feels nostalgic and familiar, but also vulnerable and pensive. It acts as a vessel of communication for an estranged Black father to tell his daughter all the things he wished he had said earlier. 

“I imagined your life as a chance to rewrite mine,” narrates McPherson, opening a door into the father’s headspace. Immediately we understand the vulnerability of the father, and what more to expect from the film. Ezeike’s clear point of view creates an open space for Black fathers to speak their truth. Black fatherhood is not a monolithic experience, however, in a society where they are recurrently judged from the get-go, Words We Don’t Say offers their often unheard perspective. 

Through childhood flashbacks and a delicate ballet dance interlude, the audience are invited to share the daughter’s vulnerability, and can only begin to understand the complexities of her relationship with her father. We see an immense amount of love shared between the father-daughter, but this love is not vocalised to one another. There is something intangible that makes this communication feel off-limits to both parties. 

The color-grading invokes a wave of nostalgia: the grainy picture and muted tones are reminiscent of a 90’s home video. This homely feeling draws well with the inherent theme of family relationships throughout the short. 

Watch Words We Don’t Say above, or on gal-dem’s YouTube channel.