This question is one that brings to memory, for most people, the first day of school. I recall primarily happy narratives when someone asks me this today. It almost seems that I can’t remember anything really bad occurring during summer break. Well, if you don’t count the bowl cut and the jogging suit my mom sewed for me to wear back on the first day of school one year. I wore a hat to class to hide the patches and baldspots my mom made in my head with the scissors. My mom couldn’t afford to send me to the barbershop. What’s interesting about my childhood is that I don’t recall being poor. (I recall people being shot, or dying, but most immediate memories are good.) My mother, great aunt, grandmother and sister protected me from realizing what situation we were in. I never really faced the poverty head on until long after I had become an adult and I reflected on where and how I was raised. So when someone asks/asked, “What Did You Do On Summer Break?” I still have these great memories of games played in the streets of North Memphis, or in the apartments in Whitehaven. The two distinct times in my life, both grounded in the real fact that I was poor, but never made to feel “less than” my situation. As dangerous as things were at times, I still didn’t have to face poverty. I thought all people went to Frank’s for a quarters worth of souse to eat with crackers. All of my friends ate Ketchup sandwiches. Basically, when you live in a situation it doesn’t seem as bad when you have people who are working to make it better. What happens though when your parent or guardian doesn’t shield you?
Last night we Netflixed (yeap that’s a word) the movie, Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. My wife and I had a date night and we capped off our night by watching this film. Written by Michael Starrbury and directed by George Tillman Jr., Inevitable takes on the challenge of presenting the coming of age story… actually, the film is a narrative that allows the story of impoverished America to be seen through the eyes of those affected by it the most, children.
Typically I find it easy to dive into a review or an analysis, but with the current situation in Ferguson and the acquittal of the cop who murdered a black young man, watching this film at this time lends itself to an analysis of the systemic and social issues that shape the interaction between Black men/boys and those around them (teachers, women, parents, authority figures).
I recall reading Richard Wright’s “Almos a Man”. In the story a young man wants to buy a gun. This is against the decision of his parents. What happens next in the narrative is inevitable. Here in the Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, what is coming is obvious. Typically this leads to a film that is strained and forced; especially when children are the primary actors. Instead of a forced narrative, we are given a three month window. The sweltering heat of Brooklyn is a character in the film as its hallways, streets and bodegas become just as vital as the story being crafted. The main character is a thirteen year old boy named Mister. It’s always interesting when a writer utilizes names to create a level of respect for a character. At the beginning of the film we encounter Mister ending his 8th grade year of school. The interaction between Mister and his teacher is familiar because it is the interaction that anyone who doesn’t know Black boys expects. While it would be easy to write off this exchange as stereotype, it speaks to the complex nature of the authority figure in a Black boy’s life who is being raised by a single parent, played incredibly by Jennifer Hudson (American Idol), who has these oppressive demons. Pete, played by Ethan Dozan, is a character who we understand immediately to be Mister’s little brother by default. Through the narrative we recognize that Pete, unlike Mister, still has a semblance of his childhood intact. While he too lives in the harsh Brooklyn project environment he seems naive, but actually has a more painful experience than Mister. At 13 and 9 years old respectively, these two characters have to navigate the summer through a hardship that is given dignity, and just the right amount of levity, by the decisions made by Mister.
I would hate to spoil the film for anyone and that is why this is so vague, but the acting and writing are razor sharp. The cinematography captures the tension and subtle nuances of the screenplay. There are scenes that occur with actors separated by the door to an apartment where each character has to make you understand the fear and desperation.
The coming of age story is rarely presented in Black film. This film could be compared to Crooklyn or Fresh, both films set in New York that capture the reality of poverty and how the strongest people are not necessarily the biggest, physically stronger, or older people. Strength is found in realizing that, “no one can make it alone.”
- Skylan Brooks as Mister
- Ethan Dizon as Pete
- Anthony Mackie as Kris
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Pike
- Jennifer Hudson as Gloria
- Jordin Sparks as Alice
- Jeffrey Wright as Henry
- Julito McCullum as Dip Stick
- Adam Trese as Alice’s Boyfriend
- Michael Chmiel as Clerk
- Chandler Frantz as Paul Finch-Audition Boy
Writer: Michael Starrbury
Director: George Tillman Jr