For Ahkeem Feature  Documentary

Black life is hard. It’s a fact, it’s an understatement. It’s impossible to fathom the depths of misery and suffering at the hands of institutional prejudice. But movies like FOR AHKEEM get us a little bit closer.

Daje ‘Boonie’ Shelton is a high school junior off the top of the film, being told that she’s been expelled from her previous school. As it happens, Judge Edwards sentences her to a school for expelled black students named ICA, Innovative Concept Academy. This experience—trying desperately to graduate without any belief in herself—seems like it’s going to be the core of FOR AHKEEM.

But then she meets Antonio.

Antonio is a fellow student at ICA. He’s cute, he’s funny. They go into downtown St Louis together, talking and laughing. Antonio is also no good at school, itching to get a job in construction to start his life. And they really get along. He makes her laugh. She holds him while he cries. He denies ever crying and she rolls her eyes. And then she finds out she’s pregnant.

Her already fragile relationship with her mom breaks, and she moves in with Antonio—who shortly thereafter calls her from jail because he can’t pay his bond.

This is a cycle all too familiar in poor neighbourhoods, which (let’s not kid ourselves) in America, tend to be overwhelmingly black. FOR AHKEEM’s intimate fly-on-the-wall stylings capture the moments rarely communicated outside of these communities. Antonio crying after getting out of jail. Daje hearing about the death of Michael Brown and immediately googling her cousin’s shooting death from the year prior.

After the birth of their son, Antonio realizes he needs to do better. Which is when he’s arrested for felony grand theft auto for driving a car he didn’t realize was stolen because his friends were going to get them pulled over. Black lives and black communities are under constant scrutiny and pressure from the justice system. If the system were meant to bring law and order, it wouldn’t create so many criminals from kids trying to get by.

Antonio pleads guilty, because the only other option is going to court, where they would really tear you apart. Antonio is promised an opportunity for a job. But the first question is if he has any prior convictions. One misdemeanor, as a juvenile. One felony, as an adult, at 17. He’s placed on parole again due to violating his first parole. The two paroles have different conditions.

Needless to say, he is now serving seven years for parole violations.

Daje, however, reunites with her family after the birth of her son. She promises to give him a better life. In the rigged America that exists now, I hope she can. THREE STARS

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