Do the Dojo: A Review of Short Film BLACK BELTS

Don’t question yourself when you feel the need to fully realize your ninja skills and join a secret neighborhood fight club. It’s the thing to do now-a-days, especially after watching Disney’s Launchpad BLACK BELTS, a short about a Compton teenager quietly pursuing his father’s footsteps by learning how to use a secret and powerful form of street fighting.

“What I want people to take away from the film, is a sense of family rebuilding, fun, and enjoying watching film again,” said BLACK BELTS writer Xavier Stiles, who also served as a faculty advisor for the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab. Stiles is a Compton, California native, and a person with diabetes.

In an interview with RespectAbility, Stiles shared that there is much to celebrate for his California roots. “I think seeing people who look like me, in the city that my family is from (Compton), has inspired a lot of the world,” he said. “Whether it be through music, politics, or culture in general, I hope people who watch BLACK BELTS will be inspired.”

Stiles wrote this short during the 2022 Disney Launchpad incubator. Since then, the sky has certainly opened up for this talented writer and his Kung-fu coming of age short. “I think the work we all did, it’s a huge team over at Launchpad and RISE, has been really helpful with the process. We had mentors, and representatives from PIXAR and Disney! I could tell there was a lot of effort put in,” said Stiles.

The incredible efforts by Disney Launchpad and everyone involved absolutely shows. BLACK BELTS is a promising and powerful beacon for many people across different communities. Stiles infused his love of anime and martial arts into this incredible story. During the final scene of the film, the protagonist proclaims their love of drawing. Their love mirrors that of Stiles. “My family has always been huge into martial arts, but I haven’t seen that exploration,” he said. “There’s just this whole era of Blaxploitation film that maybe seemed ridiculous but you know were films that were made that featured stuff that a lot of us like and clearly the culture gravitated towards at the time.”

Overall, BLACK BELTS doesn’t deliver a one-off story like most narrative shorts. After watching, it leaves the audience wanting more and maybe even holding on for it.

To catch some on the street fighting action, check out BLACK BELTS on Disney+. To keep up with Xavier Stiles, visit his website xavierstiles.com.