TIFF 2021: DEFUND Review

The death of George Floyd has led many to question the role of police within communities. While many agree that officers are tasked with responsibilities that go far beyond what they are trained for, the wheel of reform always comes to a screeching halt when the conversation turns to the concept of “Defunding the Police.” Although politicians, right-wing opportunists, and police unions have strategically muddied the landscape to make the term a political landmine that few risk stepping on, there are those like filmmakers Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah and Araya Mengesha who refuse to give up the fight for justice.

In their brilliantly conceived short film DEFUND, the directors use humour to reflect on both the pandemic and the racial awaking that started in the summer of 2020. Playing twins, who live together, Roberts-Abdullah and Mengesha find inventive ways to capture the monotony the early months of pandemic life. A time when Facetime was the only way to connect with significant others and going to the grocery store meant stocking up on masks and sanitizers. Frustrated by Toronto City Councils’ vote against defunding the police, which would have allowed for that same money being taken away to go towards social services that would help alleviate the police workload, the siblings agree it is time to take their frustrations to the streets.

Unfortunately, it is late at night and the closest Black Lives Matter protest won’t occur until the next day. Eager to prove that activism is more than simply watching documentaries, such as Ava DuVerney’s 13th, on streaming services, the pair decide to print up posters and put them up all over High Park. An act of defiance that leads to an unexpected encounter—one which forces the siblings to reflect on the people they are trying to evoke change for.

Unapologetically blunt at times, the humorous approach to the sibling’s daily life allows Roberts-Abdullah and Mengesha to touch on several pressing themes without ever coming across as preaching to the audience. The comedic tone makes the film’s messaging easy to digest without diluting its passion for meaningful change. The film reclaims the defund debate by reminding viewers of its true meaning and showing that the scars from police brutality extend far beyond the Black community. Furthermore, through the sibling’s different personalities, the film is an effective reminder that Blackness is not a monolith.


All this makes for a brisk and entertaining work that is filled with an equal measure of style and substance. Roberts-Abdullah and Mengesha display a wonderful sense of comedic timing both behind and in front of the camera. Using levity to parse through complex ideas, DEFUND is a call for those who are unwilling to move the needle of change forward to get out of the way.

DEFUND plays as part of the TIFF Short Cuts programmes YYZ Edition and Short Cuts Programme 1.

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