A local Detroit filmmaker recently released a new movie aimed at mental illness and police brutality while giving the city’s youth a chance to appear on the big screen. Filmed throughout the city, including titled street Asbury Park, the movie tells the story of four Detroit kids growing into adulthood and the challenges they face in the inner city.
Legend Williams always had dreams of making films. Growing up on Asbury Park, the film’s writer, director and producer wanted to bring a new point-of-view to film. Through the eyes of children, viewers will get a unique standpoint while navigating the film’s core themes.
“I would like viewers to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and get a broad, yet intimate, perspective of what life is like for many inner-city youths. This film does not show the glorification we might see in a lot of movies,” Williams says. “My film shows a truthful story through the eyes of the youth. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. The viewers will have the opportunity to understand the reasons why some questionable decisions are made while humanizing the characters in the film without judgment.”
Starring heavyweights like Glen Plummer, known for his roles in “Menace II Society” and “South Central,” as well as Jamal Woolard who played rapper Biggie Smalls in biopic “Notorious,” the movie mixes fresh talent with Hollywood veterans to deliver a story meant to hit home for so many. Despite an official casting call, the budding actors and Hollywood giants were joined by neighborhood kids who also wanted in on the action.
“We had traditional casting and while we were filming, the kids were homeschooling due to the pandemic and quarantine last year. As we were filming, some of the neighborhood kids came outside to see what we were doing,” Williams says. “A few of the youth mentioned they always wanted to be in a movie. I talked to their parents, and they were able to have a small part in the film. I was happy to provide the experience and give them some inspiration.”
Intent on giving back, the creator wanted to share the chance of a lifetime with Detroit’s youth to give them an opportunity to see art at work. Fostering a workspace where the young actors would see Black excellence in film, Williams led sessions where the kids would have time to meet with the A-list actors for guidance, representation and a first-hand account of celebrity.
“I’m a kid that grew up on Asbury Park who dreamed of being a filmmaker, but I knew I never had the means to get there, so I didn’t even pursue it that hard. I knew I couldn’t afford film school. When I got the opportunity, I wanted to create as much opportunity for these Detroit kids as possible,” Williams says.
As the film began production in September 2019, the cast was unknowingly approaching a roadblock that would cause a snag in filming. With the death of an original cast member, the crew stopped production, but resumed filming during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the time, Hollywood was shut down. Even though the desire was there to get the project done, safety was always first,” Williams says. “So, we went over and beyond to have safety protocols in place to ensure everyone was okay. Fortunately, we made it through our whole shoot with not one case.”
Tackling mental health head on, the film explores a taboo topic for most Black families. Exposed to the rigors of experiencing Blackness in urban neighborhoods, the community is far too familiar with violence and poverty and the toll it takes on mental health. For the filmmaker, urban traumas and silence keep the issue of mental health muted.
“From a mental health standpoint, like in the hood, most people don’t go to counseling. We experience death on a regular basis. We experience tragedy on a regular basis, but no one talks about it because they’re too busy trying to make it to tomorrow,” Williams says. “We talk about it amongst each other, but we don’t talk about it publicly.”
Looking to provide relief to families and open dialogue, a part of the movie’s proceeds will be donated to local nonprofit, Caleb’s Kids, to help families cope with mental illness and suicide.
“Mental illness is a big issue in our community with both adults and kids. With suicide on the rise among African American children, it is important to bring awareness to an issue that is not discussed openly. Although the movie touches on mental illness and suicide, I wanted to do my part to bring more awareness in the film as well as support an organization that is working hard with local families and kids to help give them the proper resources,” says Williams.
The film hit theaters February 27 with screenings at the Emagine Royal Oak and the Ford Wyoming Drive-In in Dearborn. The film is also available to stream online through VIMEO.