“I will kill you, you hear me. This time, I will end you!” my stepfather exclaimed. His face was less than three inches from mine; his large hands wrapped tightly around my neck; his arms trembling and shaking as he attempted to choke the life out of me. My mother and siblings simply stood there, watching silently. I was only 14. I hadn’t even finished elementary school.
Earlier that same day, I had barely survived a drive by shooting from members of the local gang. Yet there I stood, my heart racing and my vision blurring. Without anyone to help me, I had to quickly decide whether I would simply allow this man to kill me and take away the only good thing I had in my life: my dream of becoming a filmmaker. Or, if I would fight him back with all the force I could muster. Fueled with nothing but the power of a childhood dream - I chose to FIGHT!
When I was a teacher (and later a principal) working in historically underserved communities of color, I mentored hundreds of teenagers who came from abusive homes. This very story inspired many of my students not to succumb to the hardships in their life and to seek guidance from adults they could trust when subjected to any form of abuse. I would share this story to impress upon them the importance of having a dream that is worth living and fighting for.
Thus, I directed this film to share this experience with a wider audience, with the hope of inspiring young people, and to contribute to ongoing campaigns to help our children overcome abuse.
I assembled this film in a very unique way so that it didn’t feel or look like so many other black, urban films about gang violence and dysfunctional families. Hence, I incorporated a magical cave into the story. I believe the presence of this magical cave gives this film a layer of science fiction and magic that sets it apart from other urban coming-of-age films. Therefore, this film is not simply about a black boy who wants desperately to survive, it is about a boy who wants to live so he can achieve a very specific dream.
My hope is that this film creates an emotional yet engaging experience. Every camera angle is designed to take viewers on a journey with Ali. I want them feel the terror of a young boy being choked by an adult, the pain of being attacked by a vicious gang and the wonder of discovering a magical cave. I employed tracking shots, point of view shots and, in some scenes, a Steadicam to really immerse the viewer into this story.