Sundance winner The Forty-Year-Old Version is a familiar story to anyone who hits the age of 40, as it makes one re-evaluate life and decide the next steps in one’s career and beyond. For the film’s writer, director and star Radha Blank, it was a personal story — and driven by adversity.
“It wasn’t something I thought hard about,” she says during the Netflix film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film in regards to using her life as inspiration for the film. “It was more about the adversity in my life pushing me in this direction. I got fired from my first film-writing job and pretty much like my character, I wanted to take my voice back.”
She adds, “Making the film gave me an opportunity to tell a story about someone like me from my point of view while also celebrating my city and paying homage to my parents and other Black artists.”
The plot follows Radha, a down-on-her-luck New York playwright who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. When she feels like she missed her last shot at success, she decides to reinvent herself as a rapper to try and find her true voice. Helping her along the way is producer-rapper D (Oswin Benjamin) and her best friend Archie (Peter Kim). Both joined Blank at Contenders to talk about how the film spoke to where they are at in their lives and careers.
The Forty-Year-Old Version marks musician Benjamin’s acting debut, and he connects with Radha’s journey of being talented and overlooked. “I’ve been in the studio with people who are amazing and no one gives them a chance,” he says, adding that giving people the benefit of the doubt is something seldom practiced in this industry — especially for Black artists.
He continues, “Being able to play D — a Black producer who is giving someone else the benefit of the doubt — it’s a mirror of what I would want for myself and what I feel needs to happen more.”
Kim chimes in, “Being a gay Korean Ameriman of a certain age and being able to bring my own life experience to the role was incredibly meaningful and it never really happened for me before especially in a leading role in a film, and that’s credit to Radha.”
As the film explores the meaning of success, Kim’s own perspective aligned with Radha’s journey. For almost three decades, he has been an actor and has always questioned the definition of success. He correlated success with his work as he always asked himself, “What am I doing?”
“I feel like I’m in a place now where I have a better understanding of what success means as a human being which is outside of just my career,” he says.
Check out the panel video above.