Matty Rich, Director of the raw Straight out of Brooklyn, had to collect funds from friends, family members, and even reserved airtime on the radio asking listeners for donations. He did little to justify his claims, merely stating that he was making a film about the plight and oppression of the disadvantaged African-American community. What stood out to these listeners was the fact that Rich was only a 17 year old with grand aspirations for filmmaking.

Although the film was released in the same year as New Jack City and Boyz in the Hood, Straight out of Brooklyn distinguished itself because it was made on a bare-bones budget by a relatively inexperienced cast and crew (Matty Rich also wrote, produced, and starred in the film). I presume many people will dislike the film because it lacks the polish that most features maintain, but those who see past the surface will find an honest and heartbreaking story that lingers long after the final frame.

Dennis (Larry Gilliard Jr.) pines to escape his life of tedium and poverty. He no longer wishes to be at the tail end of the food chain, despises being a victim of incessant racism, and can no longer witness the abuse his father inflicts upon his mother and himself. He corrals his two friends (Matty Rich, Mark Malone) into a plot involving the robbery of a notoriously vicious drug dealer. By doing so, he hopes to garner enough money to lift himself and his family out of their destructive lifestyle. Dennis preaches to the choir throughout, religiously adhering to the intention of “making a difference” and “stepping outside” the boundaries that the “white man” hath imposed. Dennis, like many of the afflicted youth in Brooklyn, uses what little resources he can to achieve his goals. Violence is far superior to words in their neighborhood, and these boys don’t shy away from confrontation when necessary.

Matty Rich’s intentions aren’t so much for us to sympathize with these characters but instead to understand that African-American youth don’t always have a choice in the matter. These are under-educated and under-privileged kids not by choice but by a vicious, cyclical lifestyle from which they cannot escape. Dennis’s mother, when questioned about why she endures the abuse at the hand of her husband, merely states that it’s a man’s way of dealing with his repressed anger. This statement is fascinating in its fearless honesty and further helps us understand why these ghettos suffer from a lack of progress.

Dennis hides the plan from both his father (portrayed by George T. Odom in a role so savagely genuine it earned him a best supporting actor nomination at the Sundance Film Festival that year) and his girlfriend, to whom he speaks in earnest about the “American Dream” and the “Disparate Classes” of society. He hides from the former because his father, while abusive, is so ashamed of his life failures, he does not want to exacerbate it. This story line works because of Odom’s portrayal of a damaged and barren soul, but Dennis’s relationship with his girlfriend seems artificial, tacky, and isn’t drawn out on the same scale as the rest of the subplots. While I won’t reveal the outcome, everything that precedes the closing shot clashes together in a brutal finale that’s not to be missed (the editing, though remedial, is tremendous).

I found this film difficult to watch, not because of its amateurish style and torn edges, but because of the content. Most films regarding the Ghetto generally use racism and violence as a subtext to drive the narrative, but this film spends less time on a story and more on conveying the hardship of what it means to be a black man living in a world with no hope. This film lacks any real entertainment value but more than makes up for it in profound emotional impact.

Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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