Photo Courtesy of Michelle Pan

Mason alum Taj Kokayi continues to shine a light on the importance of telling stories through the lens of Blackness


Mason alum Taj Kokayi recently wrote and directed the sci-fi short film, “White Mirror.” Here, Jamal Nenge, who is portrayed by actor Justin Oratokhai, prepares for an interview with Broken Echo Studios, a game design company. After witnessing the only other Black man in the office get rejected the offer, Jamal makes his way toward the bathroom where he hears the words, “maybe they’ll hire at least one of us.” Jamal then discovers a switch that is used to transform his identity into a white male which he decides could be the only path to securing his dream job.

Oratokhai has a unique way of getting into character when rehearsing. He knew as a Black man he had to do a lot of code-switching in order to play both versions of Jamal. He emphasized how he has to relive those moments.

“When I play any role that I get into, the first thing I have to think is I’m human, and then I’m an African American as well,” said Oratokhai. “You get down to the specifics, what does this person have in common with me?”

Oratokhai knew while acting, he had to put on a false persona of what he wasn’t, which is how Jamal was represented throughout the film. He explained what it was like to act as if he was operating in a foreign skin.

“It was also trying to figure out your self-worth as well,” said Oratokhai. “Trying to be as organic as possible with this character because I wanted to do justice.”

A common theme seen throughout the film is that Jamal feels as if he had to change his identity to have a chance of getting the job. The switch had the names of previous users who have tried the same method. Kokayi explained that these names were also victims of the struggle of finding a job due to the color of their skin.

“The names on the wall represent the other people who made the same choice Jamal did showing how he’s just another along the line of what I like to call, ‘white mirrors’,” said Kokayi. “I really want to show the inner struggle that Jamal is demonstrating as he’s posing as this white man.” Kokayi also explains the dichotomy of Jamal’s dilemma. He knows he’s deserving of the role because of his own qualifications and the work he has put in. Jamal believes he is going to get hired because of how he presents himself with his white skin on the outside.

One of Kokayi’s favorite themes to write about is the human heart in conflict within itself. He wanted this theme on full display throughout the film. This film was selected for the Lift Off Global Sessions Festival and will be going through the festival circuit in late 2023.