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AFI Fest Review: ‘I am the Night’ preview is a devilish, intriguing tribute to the LA noir

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

Over time, Los Angeles has cemented its spot in history as the mecca of the noire genre. To outsiders, Los Angeles is a haven for all that’s glitzy and glamorous. However, amidst the City of Angels, lies a hellish history that contradicts the city’s heavenly name. It’s no wonder why the noire is prominent in Los Angeles. Back in 1947, one of the city’s most infamous murders occurred…Elizabeth Short’s body was found severed in half and discarded in a vacant lot. An unusually gruesome death at the time, the murder intrigued the masses. Known posthumously as the “Black Dahlia,” Elizabeth’s murder remains a cold case, and its mystery has lived on in various books, television shows, and films over the past few decades.

I am the Night connects the elusive Black Dahlia case with the story of Fauna Hodel, the granddaughter of Doctor George Hodel- a prime suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short. In a story that was a match made for the screen, Fauna’s life can only be viewed as extraordinary. Based on her memoir One Day She’ll Darken, I am the Night chronicles Fauna’s search for her identity in the 1960’s. A young white woman raised by a black mother, Fauna struggles to find her place in society. Believing she is of mixed race, Fauna fails to fit within both the black and white community. In an incredible turn of events, Fauna’s desire to discover her roots leads her to all the way to the city of Los Angeles. Fauna’s return to her estranged family is met with a sense of foreboding, the Hodel family’s past hidden behind an ominous shroud of secrecy. While there’s a sense of comfort in knowing where you come from, are some things better left unknown?

At this year’s AFI Fest, I am the Night premiered the first episode in the miniseries. An LA noire with the first two episodes directed by AFI alum Patty Jenkins, it was a perfect fit for the festival. The additional episodes are directed by Victoria Mahoney and Carl Jenkins. The show was co-written by Fauna Hodel, Sam Sheridan, and Monica Beletsky.

The first episode left a sense of excitement among the audience, with many wanting more. An actress on the rise, India Eisley is alluring as Fauna Hodel, AKA Pat. Raised under unique circumstances, “Pat” believes she is a fair-skinned mixed woman. Unashamed of who she is, “Pat” is content with living a simple lifestyle and marrying her black boyfriend. As “Pat” discovers her existence is a lie, her whole life is altered. “Pat” learns she is in fact Fauna Hodel- the daughter of an elite white family. Learning about her roots, Fauna embarks on a journey to Los Angeles to meet her grandfather George (Jefferson Mays). George welcomes Fauna with open arms, but will this be a good thing?

While Fauna is searching for her identity, audiences are introduced to Los Angeles Times reporter turned paparazzo Jay Singletary (Chris Pine). Sometimes a thirst for the truth can you lead you down a dangerous path, and as a passionate reporter, Jay’s quest derailed his career. A tragicomic character, Chris Pine’s Jay is cynical and snarky, but sympathetic at the same time. Looking to return to being a serious reporter, Jay once again finds himself falling down a dangerous rabbit hole. Another gruesome murder occurs in Los Angeles…not unlike the Black Dahlia case years before. It’s evident that Jay’s investigation will lead him to cross paths with Fauna. It’s a bit early to tell if their encounter will lead them to be allies or foes.

While many shows and films feature a white perspective, Fauna’s unusual predicament alters her character’s experiences. Raised in a working class home, and believing herself to be black, how will Fauna react to being thrust into a very white and elite world filled with luxury? The shift should be explored and not ignored as it is a huge part of the Fauna Hodel story. The concepts of race, socioeconomic status, and privilege come to play heavily. In a series format, there’s time to explore the dynamic between who Fauna was raised to be, and who she really is.

The debut leaves a lot to be desired, but in the best way possible. Closing with a view of the beautifully haunting Sowden House and its demonic interiors, I am the Night appears to be a thrill ride that not only tells Fauna Hodel’s incredible story, but also pays homage to the LA noires of the past. Too grandiose to condense into a film, I am the Night gives time to introduce its characters and pique the audience’s interest. True Crime enthusiasts and resident Angelinos are familiar with the Black Dahlia case, the eccentric George Hodel, and his hedonistic lifestyle. The theories surrounding Elizabeth Short’s murder make for great television, so which route have the writers taken? I am the Night looks to be pretty promising, and we’re pretty excited to see what happens come January.