Although the smoke is still settling from my move to Jersey City, one of the leading pros is being so much closer to the arts and culture of New York City. Recently, I checked out the new buzzing independent film, The Land, at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. The project is written and directed by Cleveland born and raised filmmaker Stephen Caple Jr.
The film is set in modern day Cleveland, and it tells the story of four best friends who face severe consequences after stealing a car that is stashed with drugs. The four teenage characters go by the names of Cisco, Junior, Patty Cake, and Boobie. The young men are in their last year of high school, and are typical modern day teens that are obsessed with hip hop and skateboarding culture. They are all very talented skateboarders that want to join a high profile skateboard competition in order for their crew to be viewed as serious contenders in the industry, however, instead of getting low wage jobs and slowly stacking up their money to pay for the equipment and fees for the competition, they decide to get money by stealing cars and trading the stolen cars in for cash.
One night after a dangerous exchange, they successfully steal the car of a man named Chino. Before trading the car in to the junkyard owner, Cisco and his friends find a huge stash of the drug Molly, and decide to sell it and use the money towards their skateboard competition funds. The teens are successful in their goal and make more money from selling the drugs than they anticipated. Unfortunately, the young men did not know that Chino was a drug dealer who worked for a dangerous crime boss named Momma, and by selling the car and the drugs, they put themselves in danger because Momma and her crew were on the hunt for their “merchandise”.
I enjoyed this film because it obtained an even display of classic and modern hip hop cultural elements. For all my fellow eighties babies, the basis of the plot was very similar to the classic urban nineties film Juice, where there’s a tale of four teenage male youths with limited economic and social advancement, as a group all make a naïve decision to commit a crime and how the consequences of that choice obliterates the utopia of their childhood. In reference to hip hop culture, the film was accurate in showing how the expression of hip hop has evolved in the new millennium with the merged influence of the skateboard culture, and through fashion and slang. Even with the score, the artists on the roster include hip hop living legend Nas, who served as Executive Producer for the film and also produced the soundtrack. The soundtrack also features the likes of: Erykah Badu, J. Cole, Machine Gun Kelly, Pusha T, and more.
Even though the film held comedic and suspenseful moments, it was undoubtedly a heartfelt coming of age story. The lives of these young men represent the various circumstances that many African American and Latino youth face while growing up in the economic and socially repressed confines of the inner city. They all came from low-income, working class families, but the lead character Cisco experienced the most emotional trauma. While the rest of his three best friends have families to go home to, Cisco is an orphan who has to stay with his Uncle Steve who owns a failing diner, and also pimps his girlfriend Turquoise. They have a dysfunctional relationship, and Cisco has to live with his Uncle to escape the dangers of the foster care system. As the four friends immaturely place themselves into the street life, Cisco has the least to lose because he only has to fend for himself. But as the danger of this street life arises, Cisco didn’t realize that it would put his best friends in danger and that was a harsh reality for him because his friends are his only family. He felt responsible for leading his friends into danger, and it was sad to watch this young man carry this emotional burden. From not growing up with parents or having any form of stable parental guidance, Cisco never stood a chance. He had to raise himself, and he simply didn’t know how to follow the rules of an environment where rules are nonexistent.
The most disturbing character of the film was the character Momma. She is a middle-aged white woman that owns her own successful grocer’s stand at the local, popular farmer’s market. She appears to be a well-respected business owner who warmly engages with her customers and the community. But in reality, she is a greedy and ruthless criminal, who manipulates misguided, male minorities into a life of crime and get them to do all of her dirty work. Unlike her crew of drug dealing misfits, she chooses to partake in a life of crime. She is an intelligent, financially stable woman who can achieve anything she puts her mind to, but it appears that she has grown accustomed to diving in and out of both worlds: respectable community leader and feared crime boss.
In addition to the well developed characters, I also noticed there were two beautiful visual motifs used throughout the film. First, is the color palette of the film matched the color of the traffic light: red, green, and yellow. It is a constant visual thread throughout the movie; for example, how Momma’s low-key red pick up truck looks like she’s an honest, farmer’s market business owner, but the red truck symbolizes her unassuming danger as well as her crime and drug lord affiliation. The green can be seen in the character’s Turquoise green/teal hair, played by Erykah Badu, or the shots of money that were causing these characters to make reckless decisions driven by desperation and greed. The yellow can be seen in a certain character’s skin complexion or scenes showing the mean summer sun glare over the streets of Cleveland that can sometimes ignite violent or disorderly behavior.
The second visual motif is the use of slow motion. In the beginning of the film, watching the four teens skateboard in parks, abandoned buildings, parties, and rinks was an excellent display of their love for the sport and the euphoria it brought to their lives. As the film progresses, slow motion is used in the dramatic and life-changing events in these four young men’s lives; especially in times of danger and violence to heighten the uncertainty of when one decides to enter into a life of crime.
Overall, I throughly enjoyed the film. I commend Stephen Caple for continuing the legacy of telling the stories of the poor and disenfranchised. I loved how the film held powerful symbolism of how the poor still continues to be segregated, manipulated, and the true victims of society; and if given the choice of positive spiritual, financial and social progression they would most likely choose the more righteous path.