By Kharisma McIlwaine
ABOVE PHOTO: “Changing the Game” super talents: lead actor Sean Riggs, veteran actress Irma P. Hall, unidentified guest, filmmaker Rel Dowdell, and Dennis LA White.
(Photo by Thaddeus Govan Jr.)
There is nothing like going into a theatre and seeing parts of your life played out on the screen in front of you. I recently had this experience at a pre screening of a film called Changing The Game. The film, set in the 80’s, was shot entirely in Philadelphia. Not only was it shot in Philadelphia, but the film was set not far from my old neighborhood in North Philadelphia… nostalgia!
Before the screening began Rel Dowdell, the writer and director of the film, took to the stage to say a few thank you’s and to give some insight on the process of creating the film. One thing that Rel said that stood out in my mind was that “this film is not about the black experience but the human experience”. That phrase stayed with me as the film began.
There is always a feeling of pride going into a film knowing that it was shot in your hometown. I saw some of my favorite murals, places that I drive around Philadelphia just to see in the first five minutes of the film. I felt like the film was off to a great start based solely off of that. Changing The Game is a story about an extremely bright young boy raised by his grandmother in the 80’s in one of the worst neighborhoods in the country (8th and Butler). The main character Darrell played by Sean Riggs is a brilliant young man who sets out to gain a better life for himself and his family using his intellect. He is a “good boy” who loves his grandmother played by the well known and respected Irma P. Hall. Darrell excels in school and is not too smooth with the ladies, but has a heart of gold.
Darrell gets knocked off of his original course of action but eventually makes his way back on track by making his name known as one of the best on Wall Street. Darrell’s best friend Dre played by Dennis L.A. Wright is the polar opposite. He was mischievous from youth and grows up to be a drug dealer on a constant quest to gain and maintain his power. As a viewer you are almost uncertain of how Dre’s nature of a conqueror will parallel with Darrell’s naivety. Throughout the film one thing becomes very clear Dre has Darrell’s back. The best advice that he gives him is “Stop playing the game start changing it.” Darrell can understand just how true Dre’s words are once he comes to the realization that not all crooks were gold chains and baggy pants. Some choose to dress their crime with a suits and ties.
There are some things in the film that the viewer will anticipate. When you are dealing with drug dealers, you expect to see some sort of power struggle for territory…and we get that with Dre. That being said, there are plot points and characterizations that take you by surprise! Characters like Craig (played by rapper and actor Sticky Fingaz), bring an unexpected sense of comedy to the film.
The character Marty (played by Braden Ruckdashel) takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster with his annoyingly charming persona. Tony Todd plays Curtis, a role which is both frightening and funny simultaneously. The film also showcases the reality of our frailty and mortality as human beings, and this theme tugged on my heartstrings. There were also quotes from Machiavelli and the Bible and somehow it all made sense. Last but not least the plot twists and turns which were executed with precision were an additional added bonus.
One aspect of the film that I found interesting was a scene where Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred” was referenced. The relevance of this reference for me is the fact that so many dreams are deferred for young people growing up in poverty stricken war zones… where the options for most seem fleeting to say the least. A message that rang true throughout this film is that no matter what your surroundings you can use the resources that you have within yourself to escape a situation that appears to be hopeless! The film is being released nationally on Friday May 11th in five major cities including Philadelphia.
I encourage you all to see it and to support the movement of independent films created by and staring a diverse cast of people of color. With the release of Changing the Game on the heels of Think Like A Man and Red Tails, I think we can continue to show that films staring African American actors and other actors of color can draw at the box office. The only way to prove that statement true is to go out to support it! Visit http://www.facebook.com/ChangingTheGameMovie for additional details.