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Louric Rankine

Secondary School for Journalism, Freshman

REVIEW | Killer of Sheep (1977) directed by Charles Burnett

Empathy is derived from mutual experiences, from two individuals or parties that can connect with each other through discussion or healing. Film, used in the right way, has a great power to connect with an audience and create a sense of empathy for the characters. One spectacular example of this is Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep which, although almost forty years old, presents exactly scenes of work, desperation, and poverty that perfectly reflect what I have witnessed personally and seen in my community. Killer of Sheep is an amazing film experience due to its use of neo-realism, characterization, and its abstract theme and storyline.

Killer of Sheep examines the black Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s through the eyes of Stan, a dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychological burden of his employment at a slaughterhouse. Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in the most ordinary things: the warmth of a teacup against his cheek, slow dancing with his significant other, or holding his daughter. Initially, Killer of Sheep indulges in neorealism, which was apparently the intention of the director, Charles Burnett. For example, the transitions between the translucent medium wide shots of the slaughterhouse where sheep are killed by the father, to the domestic lives of his family are representative of how labor affects life. The absence of music, and the clear depiction of labor and life on the street, accurately portrays the lower class and how individuals in those communities are affected by their poverty and their economic status. The dialogue feels real, like something we are overhearing; one particular example of this is the discussion about what being “poor” really means. All of these elements and others contribute to the neo-realism of the film; most of the time, it feels like we’re watching real life unfold.

Killer of Sheep, Angela Burnett (r.)