Through its digital manipulation of Spike Lee’s cut scene from the videogame NBA 2k16, Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz’s MBA 2k16 (2017) is a satirical film that explores both literal and hidden conversations of race and class. Upon first glance, the video merely depicts an interaction between ‘Freq’, a basketball player, and the owner of the team on which he plays. Though nearly identical to Spike Lee’s film, one single alteration in MBA 2k16 (2017) transforms this film into something slightly unnerving yet exciting to watch. By replacing the African American players face with the same face of the white owner, Liszkiewicz alters the dynamic between the characters, blurring the lines between player and owner.
As both characters delve into the conversation of the reckless actions of Vic, Freq’s childhood friend, the mirroring of faces creates a dissonance between physical appearance and the corresponding voice of each person. By altering the code of the NBA 2k16 game using Cheat Engine, an open-source memory scanner and hex editor commonly used to make modifications to computer games, Liszkiewicz was able to alter the physical appearance of the basketball player. As both people share their personal experiences, hearing Freq recount memories of growing up in the streets of Harlem told through the face of an upper-class white male creates a disturbing experience. From the irregular timing of the words which don’t quite match the movement of the face to the overall dull unexpressive eyes, the basketball player’s face acts as a mask. The sense of displacement emerges as the player’s original identity is stripped away. Is this still a conversation between two distinct men? Or is it a peek into an internal dialog of the singular team owner? What does the absence of Freq’s identity do to the validity of the words spoken? Liszkiewicz plays with perspective and identity to the point where the questions of validity and ownership become arbitrary for he has created an environment of shifting perspectives and identities.
“Don’t be a hero, cut that zero”
What originally starts as civil sharing of different upbringings and experiences quickly turns to an aggressive display of power and authority from one side. In the last effort to reinforce the importance of the action Freq must take, the owner yells “It’s gonna affect my team, and when it affects my team, it’s gonna affect my money and if it affects my money, google translate will become your new freaking friend”. He threatens him, emphasizing that if he doesn’t obey, the only basketball team he will be playing for will not be in the US. And rather than witnessing this tense conversation between two distinct people with distinct races, classes, and backgrounds, we witness one man experience two different lives. As the owner pressures the player to cut off relations to his friend, the replication of the face visually eliminates that important power dynamic linked to an upper-class white businessman scolding an African American man who is essentially the source of his wealth. He is both the receiver and producer of heated threats and displays of power. By taking away the original face, the owner is no longer speaking to his inferior but to himself, shifting perspectives while maintaining appearances.
Check out Liszkiewicz’s MBA 2k16.
Imani Shackelford is a Visual Media Arts Practice major and Latin & Iberian Studies minor at the University of Richmond. Working as a marketing assistant in both A&S Communications Department and the Weinstein Center for Recreation, Imani enjoys creating and editing digital signage, art, logos, and various designs. She enjoys working with the Adobe Creative Suite and Procreate to create art.