The Black Sea Review: An Unexpected Journey of Self-Discovery

Finding Community in Adversity

Crystal Moselle’s 2020 film The Black Sea tells the story of Khalid, a Brooklyn barista played by first-time actor Derrick B. Harden. Looking for adventure, Khalid accepts a strange offer from a woman in Bulgaria he met online, only to find himself stranded in the small coastal town of Sozopol with no money and no way home. Directed by Moselle and co-directed by Harden, the story follows improvised dialogue as Khalid tries to piece his life back together in an unfamiliar place.

Hoping for more exciting opportunities beyond his day job, Khalid quits his barista role to travel to Bulgaria after connecting with a woman on Facebook who promises money for companionship. Yet when he arrives, he discovers she has passed away with no arrangements made on her end. Now broke and without his passport, which was later stolen, Khalid wanders Sozopol’s streets at a loss for what to do.

By chance, he meets Ina, who runs a local travel agency, and she introduces him to jobs like cleaning boats, though the conditions are poor and payment is inconsistent. Struggling to find stable work as both an outsider and the only black man in town, Khalid perseveres with optimism and determination to make a new life for himself by the sea.

Khalid’s Bulgarian Adventure

The main character of The Black Sea is Khalid, a Brooklyn barista tired of his routine who dreams of something more. Played by first-time actor Derrick B. Harden, we get insights into Khalid’s background through his interactions in Bulgaria. Originally from Brownsville, he comes from a challenging environment, and life hasn’t been easy. Yet Khalid remains optimistic, driven by a desire for excitement beyond the daily grind.

The Black Sea Review

When an opportunity for travel and money in Bulgaria comes up online, Khalid takes a chance on changing his fortunes. But upon arriving, everything goes wrong, as the situation was a scam. Stranded without money or a passport, we see Khalid has to draw on resilience he didn’t know he had. At first, he’s understandably frustrated, taking whatever work he can find while figuring out his next step.

A key relationship is formed when Khalid meets Ina, a local travel agent. Played by Irmena Chichikova, Ina becomes a steady presence, helping Khalid navigate Bulgarian life. Their bond grows as they learn about each other’s cultures, and Ina supports Khalid even when others don’t. Through getting to know Ina, Khalid realizes friendship can be found in unexpected places. As his situation improves, he in turn helps bring Ina’s quiet community together through the cafe he starts.

By the end of the film, Khalid has truly come into his own. Faced with a challenge, he turned lemons into lemonade through hard work and people skills. Bulgaria allowed Khalid’s potential to shine in a way not possible back home. His optimism is rewarded, and the journey transforms him from a dreamer into someone living fully with purpose. Harden imbues Khalid with warmth and humor that ultimately touch all those he meets.

Khalid’s Journey of Discovery

One of the most striking things about The Black Sea is the relatable themes it touches on. Many will connect with Khalid’s experience of being displaced in a foreign land. Moving to a new country is daunting enough, but ending up somewhere with no plan and being unable to speak the language takes it to another level. We see how disorienting this is for Khalid at first in Bulgaria.

Everything is unfamiliar—the language, customs, even simple things like the food. Khalid struggles just to find work or get basic tasks done. It’s easy to feel lost and wonder how you’ll manage. The film shows how difficult the immigrant experience can be. Yet it also highlights the human ability to adapt when we have no other choice. Khalid taps into his natural wit, charm, and drive to start overcoming challenges.

Another powerful theme is how intercultural connections are formed despite outward differences. Early on, Khalid faces obstacles as the only black man in an all-white community not used to outsiders. But through determined optimism, he begins to build bridges. Khalid finds common ground with the locals through his love of music and enthusiasm for new experiences. His relationship with Ina in particular shows how sharing life’s small pleasures can foster understanding between cultures.

By the film’s end, Khalid has become intricately woven into the fabric of Sozopol’s community—a community that was not always welcoming. The Black Sea suggests cultural barriers are often flimsier than they first appear when we make an effort to see each other’s humanity. Khalid’s journey is one of discovering that what unites people can be far more significant than what divides them.

On a personal level, the film traces Khalid’s own voyage of self-discovery. Going to Bulgaria was initially just a spur-of-the-moment decision without much direction. But being thrown into hardship forces Khalid to tap into hidden strengths and find his purpose. By the time he leaves, Khalid has grown into a man brimming with self-assurance, following his dreams, and proud of the mark he left. The Black Sea takes us all on a journey to see who we are truly capable of becoming, even in our darkest of days, when pushed to fight for our place in the world.

Bringing the Story to Life

Crystal Moselle and Derrick B. Harden take a very unique approach with The Black Sea by utilizing improvisation throughout production. This gives the film a true sense of discovery, as we feel like we’re witnessing real people figure things out in the moment. Khalid’s interactions with locals seem genuinely spontaneous as he adapts to his environment.

The directors embrace a documentary-like visual style to further this feeling. Scenes unfold without strict shot framing, allowing comfortable conversations to take center stage. We sit back and observe Khalid’s situation as it naturally develops. Jackson Hunt’s cinematography captures the mundane and magical alike, from a chance chat along the shoreline to majestic scenes of the Bulgarian coastline.

This creates total immersion in Khalid’s point of view. As unfamiliar people and places come into focus one by one, so too does his understanding of this foreign world slowly grow. Minor details feel rich with character, bringing the community vibrantly to life.

The director maintains a relaxed pace throughout, much like one might experience culture shock settling into a new place. The film takes its time to savor moments that are both joyful and challenging. Improvisation grants the story room to evolve sincerely as Khalid embraces unexpected opportunities and setbacks.

By the film’s end, Sozopol feels like home—its beauty and charm having wedged their way deeply into our hearts as much as Khalid’s. The Black Sea wields a visual mastery over setting a mood that’s thoroughly absorbing. Its unconventional storytelling simply draws us in and lets reality’s fascinating small strokes do the rest.

Shining Through

This film stands on the shoulders of its performers. At the forefront is Derrick B. Harden in his feature debut. He brings Khalid to life in a way few others could, imbuing him with a vibrant spirit that keeps viewers engaged throughout his journey. Every setback and success feel genuine.

Behind the smiles lie deeper layers of hardened access with poignant subtlety. Khalid, frustrated, lonely, and out of options, feels as real as his later, hard-earned joy. Harden makes this hero’s evolution uplifting but never simplistic. Hairline cracks in his optimism show the precariousness of his situation.

Bulgarian locals assembled around Harden hold their own too. Irmena Chichikova perfects Ina’s gentle guidance, shining through fatigue. Her care for Khalid and respect for her town come across in every moment shared. Stoyo Mirkov finds the man behind the threatening fronts put up by Georgi, conveying sorrow for his actions.

Minor roles feel authentic too. Real people, not actors, bring richness, making this community complete. Faces light up at Khalid’s open mic, embracing music’s power to unite across divides. Frowns when trust is broken still convey caring beneath surface tensions between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider.’

Together, this cast crafts flawed yet relatable souls we root for. Credibility lent to even brief scenes proves Moselle and Harden selected talents perfectly fit to breathe life into their story. Audiences cannot help but feel invested in characters navigating life’s unpredictability with spirit and community, wherever they may reside.

An Unfolding Story

This tale takes its time to reveal itself. We join Khalid mid-adventure, left puzzling over cryptic Facebook messages. Piece by piece, his situation comes to light. The film shows patience, letting us live in Khalid’s confusion before clarity emerges.

His misfortune in Sozopol could seem far-fetched. But step by step, we feel his escalating panic, each small setback compounding the last. Stranded without a passport, the isolation must sting after big plans. Where others see odd jobs, he sees dead ends—until Ina offers a glimmer, naming Georgi. Her help hints at themes playing out.

The community proves the lifeboat Khalid needs. Ina eases his fears, pointing him toward opportunity. At the café, those barriers fall away, and locals and travelers mingle without friction. Hard times have brought these people together, their care reminding us of all we have in common. Music especially lifts spirits, fostering a shared joy transcending differences.

Khalid’s journey proves wandering can help you discover yourself anew. His resilient spirit keeps dreams alive, unwilling to see potential limited. Work ethic and humor open hearts as surely as hands. His bond with Ina blossoms through understanding, showing care, and respect. Though homesick, Sozopol has become home, and he’s found the strength to trust wherever destiny leads.

Gradually, fragments form a story touching on the truths of the human experience. Hardship is faced, but light still breaks through. Communities lift each other, and in togetherness and with an open hand, we find our place. This film has the patience to let such lessons unfold at their own pace, blossoming like the hopes it celebrates.

A Heartwarming Journey

This film takes viewers on a rich journey. Khalid starts lost and alone, thrown into unfamiliar waters. But through persistence and openness, he finds opportunity where others see only struggle.

His determination to make the most of his circumstances is inspiring. Each small step forward, from chance meetings to budding business ideas, shows how positivity and community can lift us above life’s lows. Though challenges come, connections with locals like Ina prove that shared joy and respect can transcend surface differences.

We felt like we walked alongside Khalid each improvised step of the way. The talents of Harden and Moselle make us laugh and ache with every twist of fate. Their reflection on dreams and how sharing lifts them higher left me thoughtful.

For anyone needing a reminder that we all wander but need not wander alone, this provides gentle hope. Its authentic characters and vibrant setting show that beauty exists wherever we open our eyes to see it.

I’d recommend this heartwarming film for anyone seeking an uplifting human story. Its casual insights prove that in life’s unpredictable tides, togetherness helps us all find calm waters.

The Review

The Black Sea

8 Score

Overall, The Black Sea offers a poignant look at human connection in unexpected places. Through Derrick Harden's deeply felt lead performance and the filmmakers' intimate improvisational style, it brings us into step with a man learning that life holds greater promise when we embrace both struggles and moments of joy alongside fellow travelers. Though its storyboards are simple, the film finds profound warmth in everyday interactions that speak to our shared humanity.


  • Interesting premise and setting
  • Improvisational style lends authenticity.
  • Strong central performance by Derrick Harden
  • Poignant commentary on human connection
  • Vibrant cinematography of the Bulgarian coastline


  • The plot lacks urgency at times.
  • The initial set-up is somewhat unrealistic.
  • Supporting characters are not fully developed.
  • Themes of racism could be explored more deeply.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 8
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