A bird can love a fish, but where would they live? This is the question viewers are immediately tasked with in “Yoshua,” a short film written by Matthew Castellanos and Brockhampton rapper Kevin Abstract. Directed by Castellanos, the film follows a group of four South Central L.A. high schoolers who live in a world where their friend Yoshua, a fugitive alien, is in constant danger of arrest. It’s a story of compassion and human dignity, told through an extraterrestrial character. Yoshua — endearingly called Yosh — doesn’t speak a single word in the film, yet his nervous childlike squeals make him nearly impossible to dislike. He’s a giant furry alien with immense power, but tries to avoid confrontation at all costs. He is merely a child inside — a product of the world he’s been thrust into.
“Vote YES on Prop 139” read signs scattered throughout the city, with the apparent goal of “protecting families” and “keeping our cities human.” Drawing parallels to present-day immigration issues, “Yoshua” takes the underdog’s perspective; the outcasts that are able to empathize with an overwhelmingly feared but perhaps misunderstood individual. Think the heart and soul of E.T. mixed with the grit and realism of District 9.
Castellanos’ distinct creative vision in the short renders “Yoshua” simultaneously imaginative and believable despite its outlandish premise and visual design. “Yoshua” is supported by a cast of young talent and, as a result, the film feels truly genuine. Standouts Spence Moore II and Otmara Marrero deliver strong performances as students in way over their heads, yet steadfast in their determination to do right.
The feature delivers captivating cinematography, combined with an emotionally stirring score from composers Javier Bayon and Ivan Cester. With an established background in filming music videos, Castellanos’ acute visual eye made for a truly gorgeous film. What makes Yoshua so easy to enjoy is its simplistic storytelling approach. The story of a stranger in a strange land is a universally recognizable one, and the creators of “Yoshua” understood this.
Castellanos’ “Yoshua” is a gripping story with a deeply emotional core. Even with a run time of only 18 minutes, the film carries a strong message and a succinct, yet satisfying story arch — the last four minutes of the film in particular are chill-inducing. “Yoshua” is an impressive translation of a simple concept onto film in an entertaining and captivating way.