Director: Tony Drazan
Screenwriters: Tony Drazan

Institute History


Zebrahead is the fragile, complex story of a racially mixed group of high school students, who are struggling with their relationships, their idealism and their sense of family, tribe and community. Zack (Michael Rapaport) is seventeen, white and Jewish. He is also deeply immersed in African American music and culture. He walks the walk and talks the talk in large part due to the influence of two people: his father (Ray Sharkey), a hip, ratty, record-store owner who understands all too well the difference between love and sex, and Zack’s best friend, Dee (Deshonn Castle), both of whom act as bridges between people and cultures. When Dee’s attractive cousin, Nikki (N’Bushe Wright), moves into their rough black neighborhood, the sparks begin to fly. And there to stand in the afterglow is Nut (Ron Johnson), a troubled young man with a big mouth and a heart full of anger.

Zebrahead explores relationships well beyond the surface. These are well-rounded characters who are doing a dance around each other and their feelings. The performances are authentic and uniformly strong, with some bright new discoveries, particularly in the roles of our essential triangle: Zack, Nikki, and Nut. The secondary characters deepen the story, giving it a real backbone on which to hang the fairly classic plot line. The gritty street language—words that slide off the tongue and burn in the brain—is completely realistic, and the compelling sound track adds texture to the film.

Full of small truths and revelations, Zebrahead paints its portraits in gray instead of simple black and white. Everything is shaded and colored by attitudes. But what is going on underneath? Age-old bigotry, curiosity and a search for respect. The film’s head and tail may be less refined, but the body in between is solid, honest and carefully detailed. It hits a rhythm that it sustains and intensifies until the emotional climax. In Zebrahead love turns out to be a horse of a different color.

— Lawrence Smith

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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