The strange thing about the Johnsons


The strange thing about the Johnsons had the capability to captivate the viewer instantly. It’s a short film released the year of 2011 but only recently in 2017 (6 years later) has it gone viral, shaking the internet by storm.

This 29-minute short film stars a middle-class black family who on the outside seem perfectly ‘normal’ but we very quickly find out that the father Sydney is being molested by his only son Isaiah. Taboo as the subject is, it was needed and probably the reason for its success, the shock factor left viewers disgusted but still proceeded in finishing the film.

Ari Aster the Director and writer mentioned that the Idea came about the summer before he joined film school, he and a few friends were talking about topics society does not like to discuss. Topics “That should never be made into a film!” So, it began on that level, but from there it evolved into something very different.”. Breaking boundaries was exactly what they wanted to do, even though the film comes off quite comedic especially in the opening shot when the makers reveal that Isaiah was masturbating to a photograph of his father, Of course, I laughed but that’s because inherently I knew this was absurd. Choosing innovative ways in raising awareness as such issues usually don’t get attention.

Being a student you would expect their budget to be quite low or non-existant. Where would they raise the funds? If they are a nobody as of right now then who would even have the confidence to fund them? Aster says they literally had to fight to raise the budget ourselves, so convincing people to donate money”  So I can only assume they were involved in a lot of crowdfunding using pages like ‘gofundme’or ‘indigogo’ but also creating events and sales which will not only raise awareness but gather in money.  However, Aster talks about how difficult it was to raise the funds as the topic of the film is unconventional and many people found it offensive, especially the black community considering it was a white actor depicting black family life. The makers insist it’s nothing to do with colour as it happens in all races and it was mainly just focusing on the molestation aspect. In saying that they did include stereotypes within the black community but in my opinion that adds a sense of realism because people will be able to identify with or understand the characteristics of a character within the short amount of time the makers have to develop the character.

The process is not an easy one, in order for Aster to make his short film as successful as it was a crew would be not only necessary but essential. Producers, composer, Cinematographer, Editor, production designer, makeup department, sound department were only a few of the roles used within ‘The strange thing about the Johnsons’ and even within those roles there are many people performing various functions. for example, the sound department has a sound mixer, boom operator, sound supervisor and sound editor. So David Kitchens job was to hold a boom while Anthony Enns would mix the sound and within post Ben Zarai would edit sound. The more people involved the higher the budget would need to be but at the end of the day, it’s an advantage because a crew member would only need to focus on one point making it as perfect as they can rather than juggling two things at once, ensuring the film is the best quality.

Due to the introduction of web 2.0, there are now many ways of distributing your film, obviously, previously the only way to get your film shown was with traditional theatre. Websites like Youtube, Vimeo allow independent filmmakers to showcase their work. If you want to add more weight/substance to the film then entering it to film festivals would be a good Idea which was exactly what was done in the case of ‘The strange thing about the Johnsons’. If the short makes it through then this will give the film more critical acclaim creating buzz, interesting more audience in watching it. The distributors sent the film off to Sundance festival, Santa Fe Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Slamdance festival and even nominated for NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. The more festivals the film was shown at the more people wanted to watch it, increasing important people with power in the industry who are reviewing and highlighting it, forcing interest.

Social media built most of their achievements especially facebook after reading the Huffington post, the author commented  “I first came to know of this short film’s existence after seeing a countless number of Facebook posts asking, “Have you heard about The Johnsons?” such an inventive marketing strategy, forming interest with consumers even if they don’t know what they are letting themselves into. They presented the film as if it was the worlds biggest secret and everyone wanted to get in on it that’s why it went viral online.

More recently people have been posting reaction videos on youtube, this is known as consumer-generated advertising, it’s more effective than using advertisements online or on billboards and also extremely cheaper.

What I’ve noticed that many short films would have their own website explaining, giving behind the scene knowledge and other useful information for whoever is interested. I am aware that ‘The strange thing about the Johnsons’ had a website but I believe it’s been taken down as all the pre existing links are disabled, which is slightly annoying because I’m inttrigued in knowing what it contained but to be fair it has been 6 years and there was no way of knowing that it would go viral again in 2017.



Emmanuel Akitobi . (2011). “The Strange Thing About The Johnsons” Director Ari Aster Talks To Shadow & Act About His Provocative & Controversial Short Film. Available: Last accessed 21-03-17.

IMDB. (2011). The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011). Available: Last accessed 21-03-17.

Ari Aster. (.). BIO. Available: Last accessed 21-03-17.

Malcolm Harris. (2012). What’s So Strange About the Johnsons?.Available: Last accessed 22-03-17.









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