Carey Williams (“R#J”) hits Sundance with “Emergency,” the feature he and screenwriter KD Dávila developed from their darkly comic short, also titled “Emergency.”

The film follows straight-A student Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and his best friend Sean (R.J. Cyler) as they set to have an epic night of partying, with the goal of being the first Black students to complete their school’s legendary fraternity party tour. But when they discover a white girl passed out in their living room, their plans change: What happens if they call 911? Will they be believed? Arrested? Should they leave her on the sidewalks? Take her to the hospital?

For young Black men in America, these are tough scenarios. Williams balances the comedy and drama on a fine point in the film that raises a lot of questions, and is also filled with great performances. Williams spoke with Variety about the film.

What attracted you to this script?

It was, to me, a kind of a refreshing take on a serious issue. Something people wouldn’t expect. And I was also scared of that challenge of riding that tonal line, you know, of like, we’re laughing about some serious shit, but I wanted to do [the short] then because I thought it was really well written and it was an unusual take on something.

What bigger ideas did you bring to feature?

When it came to the feature — besides [the short] actually doing pretty well and we’re like, let’s do a bigger version! — I didn’t want to just tell the same story, like just do it again, rehash the same thing. I really latched onto the opportunity to tell a deeper layered story about the friendship between Kunle and Sean, you know, two young Black men and the fear and anxiety that they hold moving within the country and something that should probably be a simple answer to [the problem] isn’t so simple for them. And what that does to their friendship, and going even further, I really dove into how do we make this a bigger thing that people really care about them.

Their friendship is tested quite dramatically.

I really looked into the masculinity that I think a lot of young Black men are supposed to hold and how that can be detrimental to them, and not being able to show their emotions. So I was happy to take it to some of the emotional places that it goes to show that. ‘Cause I don’t think you see that representation for us very often. So that’s what really drew me to this feature version of it.

Besides the racial issues the film tackles, it’s also funny.

I think for me, the North Star was always rooting this in something serious for the guys. If we took that seriously and honored the stakes for them, the writing I thought was funny and we were going to have funny moments and the way they react to each other’s choices of what to do was gonna be funny. So for me it was like, OK, don’t ever try to make light of, always honor the stakes for them and everything else will fall into place.

The movie begins with a white professor using the “N’ word repeatedly in a class about language.

There was a lot of debate, to be honest, about starting the film with that, like just dropping you into that, and I felt like, Hey, let’s drop people right into this uncomfortable sort of thing. And there’s debate about whether or not do people feel like it’s OK to laugh or not. But I love that. I love that feeling of putting people a little bit off kilter because this film goes that way. I think putting the audience in [the characters’] place — the little microaggressions that they young Black men deal with, young people of color deal with a lot of times — putting them into that very subjective feeling was a good thing to do because that’s gonna scare you. And I think bring you closer to them as characters make you care about them more over the course of the film.

The two leads are terrific.

I am so in love with the cast. I honestly can’t rave enough about how awesome they were, like from the level of engagement they had in the characters. It was a dream for me because they came in, they definitely had a lot of input to their characters and a lot of ideas. And that’s a beautiful thing for a director to have that level of engagement, ‘cause you’re getting ideas all day — one of my favorite directors said, you know the best directors know what to steal and what not to —and I just had all these great ideas coming from them all the time.

What’s it feel like to be at Sundance?

I have much love for Sundance and I’m so thankful to them for embracing my work. And, you know, I feel like I am part of the Sundance family with having a film there last year and the short was there. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to play the film there. So virtual or not it definitely means a lot to me. So I feel very blessed.