Many political messages are poured into the film 88—perhaps too many. The spotlight is on the financing of a presidential campaign of African American Harold Roundtree (played by Orlando Jones) for the year 2024. His SuperPAC, OneUSA, is chaired by Agatha Frost (Amy Sloan), with Fred Fowlkes (Michael Harney) as executive director. From time to time, a TV interview of Roundtree intersperses the unfolding plot, answering questions cleverly but with little policy substance. Much of the film focuses on Femi Jackson (Brandon Victor Dixon), who has just been hired as chief financial officer. Although Jackson’s wife María (Naturi Naughton) is not excited about the new job or Roundtree’s candidacy, Jackson is excited about both. In his new role, however, Jackson finds something strange among the financial contributions to the SuperPAC: Two donors account for 75 percent of the contributions, and the number 88 keeps popping up in their financial records. When a friend, investment blogger Ira Goldstein (Thomas Sadoski), tells Jackson that 88 stands for Heil Hitler, the plot thickens as they seek to discover why Nazis are trying to bankroll the candidacy of an African American for president. One day Jackson meets someone who informs him that Nazis had selected Roundtree long ago, financed his education and business enterprises to become a billionaire, and that the 1 percent who owns most of the world’s wealth wanted a Black man among them. But Jackson feels impelled to meet the candidate personally to inform him about what has been uncovered, so he goes to the candidate’s palatial mansion somewhere in the hills near Malibu. When Roundtree responds, “I know who I am,” Jackson soon quits the campaign. Although he contemplates informing the dirt to Roundtree’s main rival in the Democratic Party, he decides instead to place all the documents into black bags as trash. He returns to his home, cuddling a newborn girl (prematurely born), his wife, and son, leaving some filmviewers puzzled about why the film was ever made.

Most filmviewers will surmise that the aim is to disseminate truths about how the American political system operates. For example, a cartoon presents information about how “dark money” can go to a SuperPAC campaign fund yet the public never learns who contributes, all thanks to a Supreme Court decision. Nixon’s “war on drugs” is portrayed as an effort to lock up as many minorities as possible in order to explain why someone named Jose Gutierrez (Elimu Nelson) is being denied an application for a bank loan to finance his toymaking business: He was once convicted of a felony, selling marijuana. When a school principal relays a ridiculous complaint about Jackson’s son, Jackson responds by instructing his son on what to do if ever stopped by police. One contributor to Roundtree’s SuperPAC admits that he contributes to all sides, as is customary, but then withdraws funding inexplicably, presumably because he has made some sort of deal with another candidate. When Jackson shares information with Frost and Fowlkes about how Roundtree is backed by Nazis, he learns something about political operatives: They are upset to learn the facts but continue as usual, hoping the “dirt” will never be revealed. Unfortunately, one puzzle about the film lingers among those walking out to discuss the plot over dinner: Was the purpose of the film to explain why Barack Obama came out of nowhere in 2016 to become president with considerable Wall Street backing? Or an explanation why Republican Tim Scott is running for president in 2024? Director Thomas “Eromose” Ikimi would surely deny such suggestions, but those who watch 88 may believe otherwise.  MH          

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