Emergency by Carey Williams, an Official Selection for the US Drama Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of the Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may only be used by the press for news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or “Courtesy of the Sundance Institute”. The unauthorized use, modification, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.” title=”RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon and Donald Elise Watkins appear in Emergency by Carey Williams, an Official Selection for the US Drama Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of the Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may only be used by the press for news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or “Courtesy of the Sundance Institute”. Unauthorized use, modification, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.” class=”inline” data-nid=”48692634″ data-image-label=”[email protected]” srcset =”https://media1.popsugar-assets.com/files/thumbor/69G6yonlr-yzhsFF7RXz2BwKKjA/fit-in/1024×1024/filters:format_auto-!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2022/01/24/969/ n / 1922283 / tmp_nldT64_664030008b4a56b6_51723336474_3751641b78_o.jpg 1024w, https://media1.popsugar-assets.com/files/thumbor/YI7LzxkDA1rF3SOYnWyi1V1rtF8/fit-in/2048xorig/filters:format_auto-!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2022/01 /24/969/n/1922283/tmp_nldT64_664030008b4a56b6_51723336474_3751641b78_o.jpg 2048w”/>
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Donald Elise Watkins soaks up the praise for his new film, Emergency. Directed by Carey Williams, the coming-of-age buddy comedy – which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival – follows two college students, Kunle (Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler), as they they go on an epic night of partying in hopes of becoming the first black students to complete their school’s legendary fraternity party tour. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, before the night even begins, their plan is derailed when they find a drunk white girl passed out in their living room. This is where Kunle and Sean have to act fast and weigh the pros and cons of whether or not to call the cops.
Watkins stars as straight medical student Kunle, who basically follows the adventure of his vape-smoking best friend just to appease him. Kunle comes from a privileged family and has just been accepted to Princeton University. Sean, on the other hand, was raised in a less privileged environment and is already aware of what it means to be a black man in America. This distinction is clearly established from the beginning of the film. “There are so many different shades with biases and divisions, even within your own race,” Watkins told POPSUGAR of the film. “It’s interesting because I didn’t grow up like Kunle. I grew up more like Sean… [But] I think his innocence was something that really appealed to me because I didn’t have that in my own life. In a way, Watkins found himself jealous of Kunle’s naïveté. “He thinks you just put your head down, you’re working hard, and you’ll be fine. And it’s not always like that,” Watkins notes. “So yeah, selfishly, I wished I had some of that in my own life.”
The film tackles a variety of important social issues, from racial injustice to black masculinity. And as a person of color myself, there were several scenes that were admittedly very difficult to watch, but Williams does an amazing job of balancing comedy and drama. “These are conversations that need to be addressed and need to happen,” Watkins says. “I have a son and he hates medicine. He just doesn’t want to take it. He’s like, ‘Wait, is that medicine? No, I’m fine.’ But if you give it to him like, ‘Oh no, those are gummies.’ He’s like, ‘Okay, cool.’ . . . So it’s like giving [these conversations] to people in gummy form. . . We are not here to answer questions because we have not answered any questions in our society.”
Another highlight of the film is seeing Kunle and Sean’s friendship play out on screen. It’s rare that we see two black men show their emotions. And for those wondering, yes, Watkins and Cyler are just as close in real life. “RJ is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life, and it’s because of him that I was able to feel so comfortable,” Watkins said, revealing that Cyler was the first person I’ve ever met. met among the cast and crew. “I care about him as a human. I care about him as a person. And there were only a handful of times we shot where he wasn’t on set, and I remember telling them earlier that I felt like RJ was my little [security] blanket.”
Emergency also stars Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter and Maddie Nichols. Between takes, Watkins had fun with the cast, snapping photos, playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and even singing occasionally — in particular, Tobe Nwigwe’s “Make It Home,” which you can check out in the video above. “It was just a really, really easy cast and crew to be part of. I would say the best cast, the best crew, and that’s no disrespect to anyone I’ve ever worked with, it is just those guys. I love them. I’d work with any of them anytime,” gushed Watkins. “There was this song, ‘Make It Home,’ and that’s literally all you want for these characters – to come home at the end of the night. We’re in a very real situation, in a desperate situation, and we have to help that person, but we also have to think about ourselves and we have to go home and you don’t know if it’s actually going to happen.”
After its Sundance premiere, Emergency gets a limited theatrical release on May 20 before its official Prime Video premiere on May 27. While Watkins understands the film will resonate differently with everyone, he hopes it serves as a form of healing. “I hope that [viewers] can see a difference in perspective and that sparks a conversation and can change something,” Watkins says. “I know for me it was so many different things, but when you talk about seeing black men allowed to be characters full range of motion and not just playing a thing or two, I like that it allows us to be vulnerable. You don’t see that often with young black men.” Watkins wants viewers to know that “trauma is not something you just smile and bear and deal with.” He wants people to realize it and heal completely.
As for what’s next for Watkins, the sky really is the limit. And if Williams is ready for a sequel, consider Watkins! “If they show up, I show up,” he exclaims. “I’m ready.”