UK Film Challenging Racism "Play it Safe" Wins Prize at SXSW Film Festival

PLAY IT SAFE, Mitch Kalisa's (above right) short film exposing implicit racism in a London drama school,
-A +A

Photos: Chris Toumazou

PLAY IT SAFE, Mitch Kalisa's (above right) short film exposing implicit racism in a London drama school, was named the Jury Award Winner in the Narrative Short category at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival Friday, currently running digitally from Austin.

The film was produced by diversity-focused UK boutique production entity COMPULSORY.

PLAY IT SAFE is a parable on race, set in the "safe" environment of a middle class, predominantly white drama school. The film chronicles an experience both Mitch the director and lead actor Jonathan Ajayi (Noughts and Crosses) have shared in their own recent history.

In PLAY IT SAFE, Jonathan is out of place in his acting class. Pigeonholed for a role as a Black hoodlum in a classmate’s play, and coaxed by his teacher to take the typecast part, Jonathan is faced with the all-too-familiar decision: to challenge prejudice, or play it safe.

Sharing some words on the win, Director Mitch Kalisa said “A big thank you to SXSW and to the amazing cast and crew I was lucky enough to work with to bring this story to life. It’s been incredible to see how a personal story has touched so many. Hopefully the film has and will inspire some important conversations around the issues raised. 
Thank you all once again. So much love

Lead actor Jonathan Ajayi said of the project, “Thank you to SXSW for championing this film in the way it deserves to be! It was a gift of a film as an actor and a deep responsibility as a Black man. I’m honoured to have been a part of this.”

"I am lost for words and eternally grateful for all of the support and win this year at SXSW 2021," concluded producer Chris Toumazou. "Thank you to the incredible crew that helped make this happen. I would like to thank Mitch, Jonathan and everyone who gave us their incredible dedication on this project. SXSW has become a champion in encouraging creativity for new voices. I hope to keep opening many more doors for diversity in front and behind the camera as a producer."


Originally from Rwanda, writer/director Mitch Kalisa arrived in the UK as a child via Uganda. Mitch first explored his passion for film through acting and later moved into painting and sculpture before landing on directing as his primary creative output. He hopes to break convention and boundaries and tell rich stories from diverse, unheard voices. This is his first short film.

London-born rising star Jonathan Ajayi can most recently be seen as viewer favorite villain Lakan in the hugely successful series Noughts and Crosses for BBC One, based on the Malorie Blackman novel.

Producer Chris Toumazou heads COMPULSORY's film division, which boasts a roster of international directors and multi-disciplinary artists to develop a slate of projects specializing in breaking new voices in film, video and advertising.

The SXSW Shorts Jury was comprised of Janicza Bravo, Karen Han and Irena Pira.

Los Angeles-based Jaicza Bravo writes and directs but mostly directs. Her work in film has screened at festivals. Her work in television has played on cable and streaming. She hopes to one day go back to the theatre. And also make more visits to the beach. She drives a car she won in a sweepstakes.

Karen Han is a staff writer at Slate, whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair, among others.

Ina Pira is a Senior Curator at Vimeo with over eight years of programming experience at festivals such as the Hamptons International Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, and the Sarasota Film Festival.

Also Check Out...

Haviah Mighty: Black-Owned Business Giveaway
Haviah Mighty Launches $10K Black-
New Orleans Saints player Glenn Foster Jr., who died while in police custody
Ex-NFL Player Dies In Police
Daunte Wright: Kimberly Potter Trial
Daunte Wright: Opening Statements
U.S. government’s inaugural Summit for Democracy
US Summit For Democracy Must
ESPN E60 special. Fistful of Steel - The Rise of Bubba Wallace will premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 14,
NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace Opens Up In
End Qualified Immunity
Policing: Qualified Immunity Tops